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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  November 2012

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION November 2012

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Subject:

Re: Minor arts (so called) (WAS: Re: [M-R] Ecclesiastical furniture?)

From:

Christopher Crockett <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 9 Nov 2012 10:47:07 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (103 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

From: John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>

> On 11/08/12, Jim Bugslag wrote:
>> You are not alone. I consider the term "minor arts" to be both odious and
misleading. There is nothing minor about many of them.

> Indeed. But perhaps 'minor arts' should be retained as a _terminus
technicus_ for works created by or for Franciscans (OFM). In the same vein,
'minimal art' could designate works created by or for Minims (OM). Since some
medievalists already refer to grammar, logic, and rhetoric as the 'trivial
arts' ('trivial' being the adjectival form of 'trivium'), similar specialized
uses of 'minor' and 'minimal' could hardly be thought exceptional. Certainly
they would sow no greater confusion than already exists in many reaches of our
studies. 

your comparison with "trivial" is, as we are fond of saying here in Southern
Indianer (whenever we want to Put on Airs and sound like stuffy, over-educated
Brits), "Spot On."

just a reminder of what started me off on this now-metastasized string, a
reading of: 

William. Wixom, “The Greatness of the So-Called Minor Arts,” in The Year
1200 II: Background Survey (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975), pp.
93-132. 

[the text is only 6 pages, the rest are photographs of some "minor" objects by
Nick of Verdun and other hack craftsmen of his ilk working around 1200.]

read it online here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=-lK7VkGetEQC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

or download it (and the whole volume) here:

http://resources.metmuseum.org/resources/metpublications/pdf/The_Year_1200_A_Background_Survey.pdf


before beginning to talk about a few c. 1200 objects, Wixom lays out the
nomenclature problem on the first page or two in about as succinct and clear a
fashion as is possible.

c


[93]
AS  HANNS SWARZENSKI has pointed out, we have no clearly appro­priate term
for the great works in ivory, gold, silver, bronze, enamel, and inset gems
from the early Middle Ages, and when we refer to them, we continue to employ
"minor arts;' "decorative arts;' and other epithets invented during Eu­
rope's nineteenth-century industrial revolution. Many major museums to this
day shy away from even using simply the word "art" without any qualification
in this connection. And also we have no one but ourselves to blame for
clinging to the Victorian separation of the medieval arts of architecture,
sculpture, and painting from "the humbler and minor crafts:' In several ways
Swarzenski is quite correct in saying that there is really "no distinction to
be drawn between 'minor'  and 'major' arts" and that "the monumental quality
of the art of this period is in no sense determined 
by size:' Nevertheless, the Cluny Museum in Paris and The Cloisters in New
York have remained nearly isolated contributors in the museum field to the
unified study and appreciation of medieval art.

While Swarzenski's Monuments  of Romanesque Art more than proves that
separations of size and material can be artificial, this volume still
underscores the initial dilemma of terminology and the question of what to
call those works that are created in the demanding techniques of precious and
semiprecious materials. The purpose and original location of the bulk of these
works may provide a solu­ tion. These objects were primarily conceived within
the context of Christian thought and belief and were used to symbolize, "to
enshrine and emphasize the transcendental revelations of the mystery of the
liturgy and of the relics:' There­ fore, we may well adopt Swarzenski's
designation of this art as the "art of church treasures;' one of the major
arts of the early Middle Ages.

The  period extending roughly from  rrso to  1250 saw an  unprecedented
flowering of this art. Quantities of objects, many now lost, were produced
from a variety of materials: metal, enamel, ivory, and semiprecious jewels.
These included [94] portable altars, book covers, crosses, crosiers, chalices,
patens, candlesticks, and large casket shrines, the latter often encased in
filigree, gems, enamel, and metal relief sculpture. The size, complexity, and
quality of the individual objects varied, of course. Some pieces, notable for
their exquisite, rich, and colorful sur­ faces, also gave a monumental effect
in their figural elements. On occasion these figural reliefs or metal
sculptures anticipated or vied in their 
expressive power with cathedral fa ade sculptures. Other more humble treasury
objects were pro­duced, some actually manufactured for export, which in  time
may have had something to do with our modern predilection for relegating all
church-treasury art to the realm of "applied arts" or "decorative arts.'

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