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  • Ever see a medieval painting of baby Jesus

  • sitting or standing on his mother's lap

  • and wonder why she's so large?

  • 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.

  • 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,

  • fire,

  • flooding,

  • or pests.

  • And without the help of monks transcribing new copies,

  • these texts and the philosophies they carried

  • disappeared in Western Europe

  • 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

  • more realistically than Cimabuey or Duccio,

  • we need to remember that they had different goals

  • when picking up a paintbrush.

Ever see a medieval painting of baby Jesus

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TED-ED】中世美術における歪んだマドンナ - ジェームズ・アール (【TED-Ed】Distorting Madonna in Medieval art - James Earle)

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