NORTH ITALIAN TRECENTO: Noble simplicity and quiet grandeur
The attention paid to COVID and the disgusting war in Ukraine might become stifling. Of course, you must be vigilant and show solidarity, certainly quite valuable human qualities – in contrast to selfishness and propensity for violence, which also, unfortunately, are an intricate part of human behaviour. Nevertheless, so are imagination and aesthetics, something that makes me occasionally take refuge in music and art. For a couple of days now, I have stepped into the aesthetic richness that left its mark on northern Italian art for a couple of decades at the end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth century.
They are dragged away by hard-working demons,
A fat, grotesque Satan grabs them one by one and devours them as if they were appetizing tit-bits.
(translation by Per Bäckström)
Dante was an innovator, and to a certain extent also a creator of the Italian language and his work is illuminated by an almost perfect control of all the artistic-literary means of production available to him. The wealth of imagination and the virtuoso language treatment leave nothing to be desired and he was well aware of his own mastery – just like his contemporary friend and equal in the realm of painting, Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337).
In Lübeck, in 1492, Bartholomeus Ghotan printed a luxurious edition of The Revelations of Saint Bridgit (Bridget had been canonized already in 1391). This edition is richly illustrated with excellent woodcuts, among the illustrations we find a picture of the nasty vision with the poor mother who with her hollowed-out eye sockets, while the daughter is tormented in Purgatorio, crawls out of a black well, which is in fact the Devil’s oral cavity.
A similar cloth cover some items carried into a room where Mary's mohter is giving birth.
Another man lies down on the ground to drink from a spring that St. Francis just has produced from a rock.
In spite of their veneration of nature and interest in human emotion the masters of North Italian Gothic were not any not full-fledged realists. Their art often has an elegant level of abstraction, that may seem unusually modern. Consider for example the buildings behind Pope Sylvester as he descends into the cave of the stinking dragon located below the Roman Forum,
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