Tag Archives: ancient

12 Medieval Manuscript Cats

Cat10The idea of the cat meme or cute kitten video on YouTube is nothing new. People have always adored and recorded their cats lives. In ancient Egypt they even went as far as creating a cat cult, worshiping and mummifying their remains.

While cat owners know their pet’s daily activities and ability for unconditional love, it might be surprising for people to discover Cat9that cats are one of the most depicted animals on Medieval manuscripts.  Maybe, it’s  their sly attitude, persistent nature or their calming influence that makes them popular figures.

Feline features

Cat11It is perhaps  some of these very traits that encouraged scribes to use them as a comment on individual characters in the courtly and religious life of the times.

Cats could equally be used as a metaphor for a particular aspect of religious doctrine or belief that

Cat2

the patron either supported of ridiculed. This way comment could be made without directly pointing a finger.

Social commentary

A portrait of the bishop as a sly tomcat, the local lord depicted as the cruel moggy or a cat simply on the page as a symbol of stealth.

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The commissioning of a manuscript was not a cheap affair but it afforded the buyer the chance to record their own thoughts, feelings and political aspirations, sometimes in a concealed manner.

 

Cat7Musical cats

There are a number of bagpipe playing felines, which would seemingly allure to their caterwauling and even more showing them as great hunters catching birds andCat8 mice. While it could be the owners wish to include a humours  image of a much loved family pet, it is equally probable that they illustrate some allegiance or grievance.

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Marginal cats

The decorative borders, marginalia and gold leafed Cat12initials were filled with fanciful animals, mythical beasts and hybrid human-animals.

Entwined, the way cats do around a persons legs, you’ll see them amongst the foliage and flourishes of the page, ready to pounce are the many cute, crazy and scary images of the humble pussy cat.

 

 

Paint Like an Egyptian

What are the meanings behind the first rules of art?

Tomb painting

Egyptian figure painting

The style and painting  in Egyptian society 3,000 years ago is well known. Strangely contorted bodies specifically designed to show off a person’s best attributes and landscapes or events drawn as if seen from all angles at once.

This particular viewpoint was one of art with a purpose, magical art, which endured in Egypt for over a thousand years.

It was linked to their religious beliefs in life after death, and so in order to make it to the afterlife, you needed to preserve your image on earth. Hence mummification, but also the rules governing painting and especially the painting of people.

Egyptian figure painting

Bringing in the corn

Bringing in the corn

If you study figures from tomb paintings and reliefs you will see that the head is always in profile, the torso is twisted to show off the chest, arms hinged at the shoulders and the waist rotated sideways. The feet are also captured in a strange way, seen from the inside, always showing both big toes together. As if the person had two left feet.

This rather Cubist way of painting the figure was governed by a series of rules laid down centuries before and ahead of the Greek’s discovery of foreshortening.

Egyptian landscapes

Egyptian pool

Nabamoun Garden Pond – Thebes

The same all around view is used when looking at the landscape, ponds are seen from above with birds and fish both on and under the water in the same picture. Trees are drawn all around the edges, as if chopped down and neatly lined up. All aspects of the landscape are possible at the same time.

Here again the idea was to illustrate the perfect view of the dead persons world. All things depicted in an established formula, showing the world off to its best.  The gods and pharaohs were big, while the man on the street was drawn small, the little people.

Telling the story

wine making in Eqypt

How to make wine

Events were documented accurately too. They were  comic strip representations of the process, whether it  was bringing in the corn, making wine or fighting a battle. The artist drew all parts of the event in one panel, showing precisely what went on. Hunting trips show the pharaoh hiding in the bushes, stalking his prey, making the kill and taking the catch home. Understanding the visual narrative is key to reading an Egyptian painting.

Paint like an Egyptian

Tomb painting

Egyptian battle scene

I like the Egyptian painters idea of seeing things from all points simultaneously. I think that we all consciously edit our reality to create the perfect version of a scene. The Egyptian painters perfectly illustrate this theory. Think of your favourite destination and I guarantee you’ll edit out the things you don’t like or that you feel inappropriate.

Nothing is ever completely new in art. Just as the Cubists were seen as innovative in their own way, the Egyptians were possibly the originators of this concept of looking at the world through different glasses.

And just because I know you’ve been humming it while you read this post here are the Bangles. Walk like an Egyptian. 

Primitive Art – The Magic in Painting

I love the idea that art has a magical quality to it. When our ancient ancestors started painting, mark making, sculpting images, they believed there was some inherent magic that was embodied within the images they created.

Cave painting Lascaux

Cave painting Lascaux

By painting a wounded animal on a cave wall it would help them in the hunt, creating an image of an enemy and harming it also harmed the foe.These are sophisticated paintings, made by people rooted in their surroundings and closely connected to the land.

So were the earliest artworks more than just decoration for the cave or a way of adding some colour to the straw hut?

Not just decoration

The Venus of Willendorf

The Venus of Willendorf

These days pictures and sculptures are viewed as decorative objects, something to brighten a room, a thing that is nice to look at. However, in our past they were things of worship that had a definite purpose. The job of the art was to give the tribe strength and help to appease the gods.

By decorating sculptures and paintings by giving them recognisable features, primative painters instilled life in their creations. With the inclusion of eyes, a nose and mouth they believed gave a figure the ability to look out and take in its surroundings. Likewise poking the eyes out had the effect of blinding the person.

Magical art

Hunting scene

Hunting scene

People had such a strength and faith in the magic of early art, that it was fervently understood that an object’s power could effect things. Art as a living, breathing, potent force, this also gave artists a special place in the society. The skill to carefully craft artworks for the tribe was a valuable and essential part of the groups daily routine.

They were teaching aids, passing on valuable information about the seasons, hunting and farming. Large totums were erected to record the tribes stories and painted tombs to prepare the dead for the afterlife. You would not go to all the effort of building a pyramid unless you fervently believed its power would return the departed god king to his celestial realm.

Magic in Modern art

Carved head

Carved head

Even today, wanton acts of vandalism against artistic images such as destroying the eyes on a painting would cause feelings of unease. Try sticking a pen through a photo of your favourite celebrity and you’ll feel wrong. The graven image has a strong connection to our ancient primative selves and art is still able to conjure up passionate emotions and deep feelings deep within our soul.

So when viewing primitive, native or tribal art, remember that as well as being a beautiful decorative image it is so much more and had a specific purpose too. Can it ward off storms, protect the crops or induce fertility? Who knows? However, our ancestors thought so and it would be rude not to take advice from our elders and betters