The Getty Center
Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Location: Museum Lecture Hall
Past Event

The illustrators of illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages were extremely well informed about the weapons and armor of their era. Even when depicting historical subjects, they routinely represented knights and other fighting men as belonging to the artist's time, rather than to the date of the subject matter. This meticulous attention to detail, and the rigorous consistency with which it was applied, has left us an extraordinary visual record of the appearance of medieval fighting men. With very few actual weapons or pieces of armor surviving, pictorial sources such as this bring crucial detail and context to our modern understanding of arms and armor, and of medieval warrior culture in general.

While these illustrators were taking scrupulous care to faithfully record the material culture of their own time, beginning in the 14th century manuscript illustrators also became increasingly aware of and interested in the convincing representation of warriors of the ancient world: the heroes of the Roman Empire, the champions of Greece and Troy, and especially the semi-mythical adventures of Alexander the Great. Some of the earliest murmurings of the Renaissance can be found in the depiction of armor in the Greco-Roman "heroic" style by 14th-century artists.

By the 15th century two contrasting images of the knightly warrior—the Classical and the contemporary, the antique and the modern—formed two extremes of a representational spectrum in manuscript art. Late medieval artists often interpreted the appearance of their subjects as solely one or the other, but also frequently combined elements of both to create stylistic hybrids, warriors displaying both antique and contemporary attributes. This practice enabled the artist to communicate a vibrant sense of historical perspective, particularly within works recording key people and events over a span of hundreds if not thousands of years.

In this illustrated talk Dr. Tobias Capwell, curator of arms and armour at the Wallace Collection in London, explores the essential characteristics of both styles, discusses the ways in which they were combined in manuscript art, and contemplates the artists' motivations and intentions in this unique form of visual storytelling.

Complements the exhibition Chivalry in the Middle Ages.

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