Imagines historiarum

Visions of the past in medieval illuminated manuscripts 1

Authored by: Rosa M. Rodríguez Porto

The Medieval World

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138848689
eBook ISBN: 9781315102511
Adobe ISBN:


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The invention of the Middle Ages as media tempestas, a time of darkness in between Antiquity and the Renaissance, starts with Petrarch, or so the master narrative of Modernity goes (Mommsen 1942). According to it, the poet’s acute perception of an incommensurable distance between the ‘sad centuries’ he was living in and the glorious past of Rome he considered as his sole patria, would have paved the floor for the development of a true historical consciousness and a higher archaeological discernment throughout the fifteenth century, in parallel with the theorization of the perspectiva artificialis as a system of representation in the realm of the arts. The acquisition of a ‘proper’ insight into the past would have depended, then, on finding the ‘right’ distance from which to look at it, a capacity the ‘myopic’ Middle Ages lacked. No matter how simplistic, this visual cognitive metaphor (Guillén 1971: 283–374) remains as persuasive today as in Erwin Panofsky’s Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1960) or Peter Burke’s The Renaissance Sense of the Past (1969). 2 Yet images in medieval illuminated manuscripts tell a more nuanced story.

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