The Riddle of the Image: The Secret Science of Medieval Art

The Riddle of the Image: The Secret Science of Medieval Art

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 1780232942

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

From monumental church mosaics to fresco wall-paintings, the medieval period produced some of the most impressive art in history. But how, in a world without the array of technology and access to materials that we now have, did artists produce such incredible works, often on an unbelievably large scale? In The Riddle of the Image, research scientist and art restorer Spike Bucklow discovers the actual materials and methods that lie behind the production of historical paintings.
Examining the science of the tools and resources, as well as the techniques of medieval artists, Bucklow adds new layers to our understanding and appreciation of paintings in particular and medieval art more generally. He uses case studies—including The Wilton Diptych, one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery in London and the altarpiece in front of which English monarchs were crowned for centuries—and analyses of these works, presenting previously unpublished technical details that shed new light on the mysteries of medieval artists. The first account to examine this subject in depth for a general audience, The Riddle of the Image is a beautifully illustrated look at the production of medieval paintings.


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foul oyster.’118 The pre-existence of white powder in black metal and the purifying effect of dung were riddles that confronted medieval painters every day. The modern aversion to paradox has marginalized such riddles but they 38 Lead White: Strange Matter refuse to die and live on, usually dismissed as truisms or platitudes. For example, in the face of adversity, someone might say ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. This is merely a restatement of what lead white proved to artists – that when

were left partially painted 42 The Metz Pontifical: Official Matter and the last tenth just has ink drawings of what should have been painted (illus. 6–7). Today, the Metz Pontifical is split into two parts. Some of it is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, while the rest of it is in the University Library, Prague. The Cambridge part was donated in 1918 by Henry Yates Thompson, who received it as a gift from Sir Thomas Brooke, who had in turn acquired it at a Paris auction in 1817. According

antipathy was the driving force behind Cennini’s purification of lapis. Of course, heaven is no place for antagonistic relationships, hence, in the Diptych, this particular mixture is a reminder that all things contain their opposite. Just as the painter knew that a dull black metal contained a bright white powder, so the painter surrounded the gold with ultramarine, echoing the fact that the feminine Virgin enveloped the masculine Christ Child. The Diptych’s painter seemed to like the idea that

element. He was depicted on the earthly panel looking at a vision of heaven, and the image he received would depend upon the 137 the riddle of the image nature of his soul. If his soul was agitated by whatever was beneath him, or obstructed by whatever was within him, then he would see only a fragmented and dim image of the heavens above him. Grief, for example, stirs up the soul’s surface, breaking up appearances so that – as Shakespeare made one of Richard’s retinue say – ‘Each substance of

construction projects to starting his own. He turned from benefactor to patron. Gothic cathedrals like the Abbey are vast physical structures that rose on the back of even bigger social and spiritual structures.40 Some grew over centuries and owed their existence to a succession of patrons and generations of labourers, but Westminster’s abbey grew so fast that it can fairly be credited to Henry iii alone. Indeed, his financial commitment to building was greater than any other single individual’s

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