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Tag Archives: medieval
After the heatwave, that drifted over southern Europe for three weeks, the summer of 2017 earned nickname “Lucifer’s Summer”. The average temperature was in the mid-forties and the heat was stifling.
The painting features the village of Belvedere Ostrense in Le Marche, with the silhouettes of Barbara and Ostra Vetere in the background. The hills had either been ploughed, which left hardened clods of earth or black, dried sunflowers, making the usual verdant landscape turn various shades of black and brown.
The never-ending heatwave had the feel of a biblical prophecy to it so I decided to paint it in a Medieval manuscript style, complete with a demonic head in the corner. From its foul mouth swirl the stinking, reeking heat of hell. Well that’s how it felt for quite a few days that summer
Whilst relaxing in Le Marche this summer I decided to do a landscape of the surrounding area that resounded to the uncharacteristically high temperatures we’ve been experiencing in Italy.
The 2017 heatwave has been nicknamed “Lucifer” and I felt a title of such biblical proportions deserved a similar rendering. The name itself conjures up images of plague, death and destruction. A scene of a time of old school torment and scorched lands, laid waste.
This isn’t that far from the truth as everywhere is dry and brown. There are massive water shortages in 11 regions of Italy and with a month of unseasonably high temperatures, averaging around the mid-forties, a Medieval painting of the Devil’s wrath seemed apt.
Demons in Manuscripts
Looking at a number of Medieval manuscripts I decided that it would be fun to have a stylised demon in one corner and paint the sky in all hellish shades of red, orange and purple. This is very much the way the sky naturally looks at sunset each night.
Although the grain has been harvested, and all that remains are the dried stalks, there are thousands of blackened, shrivelled sunflowers scattered across the landscape.
These and the baked fields all serve to create the impression of a barren countryside, abandoned and forgotten. Well naturally the countryside is deserted, everyone has decided it’s time to visit the seaside, where it’s cooler, wetter and fresher.
The 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 that 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.
It 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
the patron either supported of ridiculed. This way comment could be made without directly pointing a finger.
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.
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.
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 and 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.
The decorative borders, marginalia and gold leafed initials 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.
“The steady rumbling of the water wheel, turning, turning, turning, working to the beat of the race. The straining of the machine, the thump against the punch bag, the sacks of flour and the groaning, panting and sweating of the work out. Gym day, Thursday is here again. “
The idea came from images I saw of old watermills, simple representations that looked fun to play with. I liked the idea that the waterwheel could also be used as a piece of gym equipment, endlessly driving people on.
The mill machine
So the Medieval gym was filled with a punch bag, exercise bike, medicine ball, wall ladders, pommel horse and a climbing rope. The locker cabinet is based around the Ikea cupboards. The idea is that the gym equipment somehow looks like the wheels and cogs of the mill, so in truth you’d get a work out there whether you went for exercise or as part of your job.
I decided to make the watermill a natural partner with the windmill painting by using the same deep Prussian Blue sky. The dark blues in the watermill are countered by bright orange, browns and yellows to give the picture some colourful visual points.
The style of the water comes from the way traditional stained glass artists would paint water and is one I’d used previously in the painting of Positano
“Highlighted against the storm brushed horizon the windmill groaned. Its sails idly turning as the early evening sky began to bruise. From the depths inside came the groans and grinding of a dank, dark place, heavy with gloom. The flapping of the clean clothes, whip-like, as they cracked out their punishment. Yes! it’s wash day again. “
I’ve always loved the way the Gothic painters, woodcut artists and print-makers portrayed windmills. Strange boxes, mounted on legs or humps with crazy, spindly sails, twisting and turning in the breeze.
So when it came to the next in the Medieval rooms series I thought a windmill would make the perfect laundry room. Noisy places, vibrating machinery, canvases flapping in the wind and a sense of foreboding, well perhaps that’s just my laundry room.
Furnishing the windmill
The idea for the furnishings of the windmill came straight out of the Ikea catalogue. The washing machine, linen basket, laundry bag and shelves are all products from the Swedish company.
I also liked the idea of including a chain mail shirt and a Boudica-esque bra with copper finish and swirls. The whirligig behind, with its washing reflects the mill, turning, spinning and drying the clothes.
Instead of the gold leaf effect background, I have opted for in previous paintings, I chose an alternative deep, Prussian blue sky, tinged with a hint of black.
Nowadays the use of black and white in watercolour painting is somewhat frowned upon but in the International Gothic period it was a perfectly acceptable practice.
This technique is how the painters of the past created depth, shadows and highlights. While their attempts may look clumsy and simplistic there is also an element of sophisticated understanding that gradually develops into the Renaissance period.
“The Gothic Library, a mysterious, musty, place of books, tomes and manuscripts. Here, squirreled away are ancient texts, dark secrets and damning admissions. More revealing stories are recorded on the shelves of the cellar below the house. Locked away in heavy chests, behind iron bound doors, lit by the flickering light of a candle.”
Painting the library
This watercolor painting features a barrel arched basement with a set of steps leading up to the library. The sides are decorated with leafy foliage, reminiscent of earlier Byzantine works, and the background continues the gold leaf effect theme.
The Liatorp bookcase is lined with heavily bound, stylised, 14th century books, one, open and abandoned lies on the Stockholm coffee table. Against the wall is an Arklestrop, half moon table with a lamp and a flat woven rug on the floor.
Putting IKEA furniture in a Medieval Gothic setting is a fun way of examining the way the masters of the age would have handled painting modern furniture. Much of the Swedish designer’s products have straight, simple lines, ideally lending themselves to being recreated in a different way.
Next up, the washroom!
This time I explored the Medieval bathroom, complete with contemporary fixtures and fittings. IKEA don’t make baths and shower units so I had to look elsewhere for a modern tub. However, the shower curtain, the basket and the toothbrush glass all come from the Swedish furnishers.
Painting the old and new
Again the painting has a typical 14th century palette and I’ve got some gold acrylic paint to replicate the gold leaf commonly found in Medieval manuscripts. These pictures have the feel, colour and style of the original artworks but with the fun inclusion of electric sockets and brass taps. All fitted into impossible spaces, at weird and wonderful angles, just like the International Gothic artists did.
When planning this series it suddenly came to me that IKEA are an excellent choice for the furnishings. Their designs are clean and simple but most of all they are a world renowned brand, instantly recognisable and easy to identify with. Giving their products a Medieval spin but still making them obviously IKEAesque.
Imagining how past things might have been portrayed in a modern light has always interested me. As with images, the same applies to music. Today, would the group Buggles have written YouTube killed the MTV star, instead of the long dead video killing the radio star. Blondie’s classic “Call me!”, most likely would be “Text me!” while Joni Mitchell hails an Uber cab instead of her Big Yellow Taxi. Next up, a kitchen I think.