Ever see a medieval painting of baby Jesus
sitting or standing on his mother’s lap
and wonder why she’s so large?
在Cimabue或者Duccio s Maesta
Paintings like Cimabue’s enthroned Madonna with angels
or Duccio’s Maesta
also appear out of proportion.
If Mary were to stand up, it seems,
the angels in the picture would be as tall as her shin bone,
and her torso would be disproportionately small
when compared to her legs.
Maybe you thought the artist simply wasn’t skilled enough
to paint realistically
or lacked the mathematical skill of perspective.
But that’s not the full story.
To understand why, we need to go back
to the late fifth century
when the city of Rome was attacked by the Goths.
Rome was built in marble and meant to last forever.
It represented, for many years,
the pinnacle of human civilization,
so its destruction left a huge void.
Theologians, who preached about a world beyond the physical,
began attracting an audience as Rome crumbled,
and Christianity started to fill the void left by the Empire.
As a replacement for the physical beauty of Rome,
Christianity offered a metaphysical beauty of virtue
and an eternal heaven
that could not be destroyed as Rome had.
After the fall of Rome,
early medieval theologians turned away from physical beauty,
rejecting it in favor of inner-beauty.
They maintained that while the physical world was temporary,
virtue and religion were permanent.
Beautiful objects could lead to a misguided worship of the object
rather than the worship of goodness.
据说6世纪早期传教士 St. Benedict,
It is said that the early sixth century preacher, St. Benedict,
upon thinking of a beautiful woman,
threw himself into a thorn patch,
and through his suffering,
regained his focus on spiritual beauty.
He feared his desire for the beautiful woman
would distract him from his desire to love God.
As European civilization transitioned away from empires
and towards religion,
monasteries became the gatekeepers of knowledge,
which meant that classical books
that praised physical pleasures
were not copied or protected.
Without protection, they became the victims of natural decay,
And without the help of monks transcribing new copies,
these texts and the philosophies they carried
disappeared in Western Europe
被像 St. Benedict,这样的传教士的作品所取代
and were replaced by the works of people like St. Benedict,
which brings us back to these depictions of Jesus and Mary.
Because Christianity had so fervently rejected physical beauty,
these medieval artists purposefully avoided
aesthetically pleasing forms.
At first, decorations for churches or palaces
were limited to interesting geometric patterns,
which could be pleasing
without inspiring sinful thoughts of physical pleasure.
As the medieval period progressed,
depictions of Jesus and Mary were tolerated,
but the artist clearly made an effort to veil Mary
and give her disproportionately large legs,
with those enormous shin bones.
The fear remained that a beautiful illustration of Mary
might inspire the viewer to love the painting
or the physical form of Mary,
rather than the virtue she’s meant to represent.
So even though it may be fun to think we can paint
比 Cimabuey 或Duccio,更写实
more realistically than Cimabuey or Duccio,
we need to remember that they had different goals
when picking up a paintbrush.