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Old August 3rd, 2018, 07:09 AM   #1

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Interesting Examples of Medieval Statuary


The art of statue carving is generally associated with antiquity and the renaissance, and perhaps justly so in large part, but this association can lead to a passing over of the rich traditions of statuary which existed in many different times and places in the medieval world. The goal of this thread is to rectify that somewhat, giving a platform for the display of some of the more interesting statues of the middle ages, both surviving and from the sources. The thread is made with other members' participation in mind, but I'll start it off with some of my favourites:

The Pisa Griffin:

Click the image to open in full size.

Likely originating in 11th century Al-Andalus, the Pisa Griffin, the largest Islamic statue in metal of the middle ages, was either bought or captured in raid by the republic of Pisa at some point in the 11th or 12th century, after which it was mounted on the city's cathedral, where a replica griffin still stands:

Click the image to open in full size.

The copper sculpture is covered in Kufic inscriptions, wishing its owner "Perfect benediction, complete wellbeing, perfect joy, eternal peace and perfect health, and happiness and good fortune", and is believed to have originally been designed to house a bagpipe mechanism imitating an animal's cry when played.

Ife Heads:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

The Ife Heads are a collection of exquisite royal portraits in bronze from the medieval kingdom of Ife in Nigeria. The first was supposedly made in the 12th century, though I couldn't find a reliable source confirming this, while the latter two are dated to the 14th or early 15th century. The holes which can be seen around the mouth of the second bronze were for attaching beads of glass which formed a beard. The exact purpose of the sculptures aren't known, but they may be related to a royal cult of some sort, or perhaps were simply visible symbols of royal wealth and authority.

Head of Frederick II Hohenstaufen as Roman Emperor:

Click the image to open in full size.

Frederick II, early 13th century Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, was a rather eccentric ruler, enamored with his own supposed status as Roman Emperor, leading to, among many, many other things, his commissioning of multiple classicizing statues of himself laureate, alongside a number of his relations and advisors. Another example, and two busts of his courtiers:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Statue of Charles I of Anjou as Senator of Rome:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Charles I of Anjou, mid-late 13th century King of Sicily and an assortment of other smaller territories, had this statue of himself erected in Rome after being elected "Senator" (civil governor) of the city in 1263 by the Guelphs. One of the greatest works of medieval sculpture, I saw it in person myself in the Capitoline museum not too long ago, and the detail and intricacy really are striking, especially in the face. The work, it should be noted, was designed to be viewed from below, not straight on, so some of the proportions appear off in the photo but wouldn't have originally.

Finally, a non-extant example from the sources:

The Column of Michael VIII:

Michael VIII Palaiologos was Roman Emperor from 1259 to 1282, and it was in his reign that Constantinople was recovered from the Crusaders. To commemorate this victory, Michael, as described by George Akropolites, erected a triumphal column in the Augustaion, next to the Hagia Sophia. This column was topped by a bronze statue depicting the Emperor kneeling and presenting a model of the city to the Archangel Michael in celebration of its recovery. The bronze, though only described in text, represents one of the only known examples of monumental statuary from the middle and late Byzantine periods, and must have been quite impactful indeed at its unveiling.

I'm looking forward to what other members have to add, and might update the thread further in the future.

Last edited by JeanDukeofAlecon; August 3rd, 2018 at 07:13 AM.
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Old August 3rd, 2018, 06:36 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeanDukeofAlecon View Post
The art of statue carving is generally associated with antiquity and the renaissance, and perhaps justly so in large part, but this association can lead to a passing over of the rich traditions of statuary which existed in many different times and places in the medieval world. The goal of this thread is to rectify that somewhat, giving a platform for the display of some of the more interesting statues of the middle ages, both surviving and from the sources. The thread is made with other members' participation in mind, but I'll start it off with some of my favourites:

The Pisa Griffin:

Click the image to open in full size.

Likely originating in 11th century Al-Andalus, the Pisa Griffin, the largest Islamic statue in metal of the middle ages, was either bought or captured in raid by the republic of Pisa at some point in the 11th or 12th century, after which it was mounted on the city's cathedral, where a replica griffin still stands:

Click the image to open in full size.

The copper sculpture is covered in Kufic inscriptions, wishing its owner "Perfect benediction, complete wellbeing, perfect joy, eternal peace and perfect health, and happiness and good fortune", and is believed to have originally been designed to house a bagpipe mechanism imitating an animal's cry when played.
I see the statue in a museum setting and on top of a building. Was the statue moved inside to preserve it, like the famous broze horse of Venice, and a replica placed on top of the building? Or was rhe photo taken before the statue was taken inside?

Just superb.


Quote:
Ife Heads:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

The Ife Heads are a collection of exquisite royal portraits in bronze from the medieval kingdom of Ife in Nigeria. The first was supposedly made in the 12th century, though I couldn't find a reliable source confirming this, while the latter two are dated to the 14th or early 15th century. The holes which can be seen around the mouth of the second bronze were for attaching beads of glass which formed a beard. The exact purpose of the sculptures aren't known, but they may be related to a royal cult of some sort, or perhaps were simply visible symbols of royal wealth and authority.
I wonder about the parallel groves on the heads. Were they a artistic touch, or did were they just an artifact of how the heads were made? They look nice, I think the heads look better with these groves on the surface.

They too are very magnificent, as fine as any made anywhere in the world. Given that the Romans and others made a lot of head bust, I think they are symbols of wealth and authority, and they look cool. The artist(s) aren't known by name, by any chance?

Quote:
Head of Frederick II Hohenstaufen as Roman Emperor:

Click the image to open in full size.

Frederick II, early 13th century Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, was a rather eccentric ruler, enamored with his own supposed status as Roman Emperor, leading to, among many, many other things, his commissioning of multiple classicizing statues of himself laureate, alongside a number of his relations and advisors. Another example, and two busts of his courtiers:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.
Clearly inspired by Roman and Greek examples. Ok, but not especially great quality.


Quote:
Statue of Charles I of Anjou as Senator of Rome:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Charles I of Anjou, mid-late 13th century King of Sicily and an assortment of other smaller territories, had this statue of himself erected in Rome after being elected "Senator" (civil governor) of the city in 1263 by the Guelphs. One of the greatest works of medieval sculpture, I saw it in person myself in the Capitoline museum not too long ago, and the detail and intricacy really are striking, especially in the face. The work, it should be noted, was designed to be viewed from below, not straight on, so some of the proportions appear off in the photo but wouldn't have originally. 
It really is a great statue. Do we know tne artist? I know most artist of this time period are unknown.


Quote:
Finally, a non-extant example from the sources:

The Column of Michael VIII:

Michael VIII Palaiologos was Roman Emperor from 1259 to 1282, and it was in his reign that Constantinople was recovered from the Crusaders. To commemorate this victory, Michael, as described by George Akropolites, erected a triumphal column in the Augustaion, next to the Hagia Sophia. This column was topped by a bronze statue depicting the Emperor kneeling and presenting a model of the city to the Archangel Michael in celebration of its recovery. The bronze, though only described in text, represents one of the only known examples of monumental statuary from the middle and late Byzantine periods, and must have been quite impactful indeed at its unveiling.

I'm looking forward to what other members have to add, and might update the thread further in the future.
Did the statue get melted down by the Turks?
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Old August 3rd, 2018, 10:29 PM   #3

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Originally Posted by Bart Dale View Post
I wonder about the parallel groves on the heads. Were they a artistic touch, or did were they just an artifact of how the heads were made? They look nice, I think the heads look better with these groves on the surface.
Those heads are magnificent.

It's hard to believe the grooves don't "mean" something. Tattoos? Scarification? Maybe something symbolic like a saint's halo? Sign of class?

Or just cool art.....

I don't buy that they're artifacts of the process. They're just too good. They're intentional.


Hey!
" The bronze heads were cast by the melted wax method; their dimensions are near life-size and on some the whole facial area is covered with close parallel lines which, it is thought, may represent body marks of a particular kind"
African Bronze Ife Head

If they used lost wax casting, they worked very hard to make those lines clean. Lost wax tends to blur details like that, and they would have had to be reworked after the casting.

Last edited by Dios; August 3rd, 2018 at 10:36 PM.
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Old August 3rd, 2018, 11:03 PM   #4

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This place has a lot of little things, not big statuary. Most of it is younger than you suggest, but the "Holy Roman Empire" section has some beautiful bits ... like the book cover.
Kaiserliche Schatzkammer Wien: Selected masterpieces

I found this place tracking down the "Spear of Destiny" (not very pretty). Ignore what it is, or isn't. This thing has a wonderful, continual provenance. It appeared in Emperor Constantine's time, passed through Charlemagne's hands, handed from king to king, stolen by Adolf Hitler and hidden in Nuremberg Castle, retrieved by US soldiers, returned to Austria.

Allegedly, the orb, sceptre, and lance were three signs of power/authority. There are plenty of pictures of monarchs with the orb & sceptre. I've never seen one with the lance (looking at Constantine and Charlemagne pics). Perhaps them actually carrying it around is an exaggeration.

This museum has a "Holy Roman Empire" crown. I can't remember where I read the story. It *STARTED* with Charlemagne's crown, which was actually pretty simple ... but it was broken down and the jewels reassembled three or four times. The one they have has the most recent date of "assembly."
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Old August 6th, 2018, 09:16 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dios View Post
This place has a lot of little things, not big statuary. Most of it is younger than you suggest, but the "Holy Roman Empire" section has some beautiful bits ... like the book cover.
Kaiserliche Schatzkammer Wien: Selected masterpieces

I found this place tracking down the "Spear of Destiny" (not very pretty). Ignore what it is, or isn't. This thing has a wonderful, continual provenance. It appeared in Emperor Constantine's time, passed through Charlemagne's hands, handed from king to king, stolen by Adolf Hitler and hidden in Nuremberg Castle, retrieved by US soldiers, returned to Austria.

Allegedly, the orb, sceptre, and lance were three signs of power/authority. There are plenty of pictures of monarchs with the orb & sceptre. I've never seen one with the lance (looking at Constantine and Charlemagne pics). Perhaps them actually carrying it around is an exaggeration.

This museum has a "Holy Roman Empire" crown. I can't remember where I read the story. It *STARTED* with Charlemagne's crown, which was actually pretty simple ... but it was broken down and the jewels reassembled three or four times. The one they have has the most recent date of "assembly."
About the age of the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire.

According to the Wikipedia article:

Quote:
The crown was made probably somewhere in Western Germany, either under Otto I (with additions by Conrad II),[1] by Conrad II or Conrad III during the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The first preserved mention of it is from the 12th century—assuming it is the same crown, which seems very probable.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperi...y_Roman_Empire

Quote:
There have been many discussions as to how old the crown is, and
for which king or emperor it had been made. Recent research indicates that
it dates back to the second half of the tenth century, and that it possibly was
made for the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Otto I (912–973).
6
Up until 1945, however, the crown was widely – and wrongly – thought to
be that of Charlemagne.
https://cpb-eu-w2.wpmucdn.com/blogs....-to-Hitler.pdf

As far as I remember, the crown has no known connection with Charlemagne, though it is much older than the two French crowns named after Charlemagne. As I remember, the 8 plates of the circlet were supposed to have been made for Otto the Great, possibly for his imperial coronation in Rome in 962 (making them 1056 years old if correct), and the arch is believed to have been made for Conrad II (r. 1024-1039) or Conrad III (r. 1138-1152) since it has the name and titles spelled in seed pearls (thus making the arch 979 to 994 years old). The cross is believed to have been a pectoral cross, possibly belonging to Henry II (reigned 1002-1024) and added to the crown at some later date (thus making it at least 994 years old if correct).

This is a portrait of Emperor Charlemagne:

Click the image to open in full size.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlemagne#/media/File%C3%BCrer_karl_der_grosse.jpg

It was painted by Albrecht Durer about 1511-1513 and depicts Charlemagne in the coronation regalia of the Holy Roman Empire, including the imperial crown. This painting may have suggested that the crown was made for Charlemagne and been cause for calling it the Crown of Charlemagne.

As near as I can tell there were about 14 steps in the construction and assembly of the crown, and their order is not certain.

1) Making the eight plates of the circlet, with hinges between they so they could be disassembled and packed for travel.

2) Attaching two iron rings to the insides of the plates so they cannot be disassembled. This must have happened sometime after step # 1.

3) Making the cross. If it really belonged to Henry II (973-1024) it must have been made in or before his lifetime and thus be 994 to 1045 years old if made for him, or possibly older if not made for him.

4) Attaching the cross to the circlet of 8 plates. Sometime after both the circlet and the cross were made. If the cross was worn as a pectoral cross when it belonged to Henry II it would have been attached to the circlet during Henry's reign (1002-1024) or sometime afterwards.

5) Making the arch. Date uncertain. There is a theory a new arch was made for each emperor until that made for Conrad II was kept permanently.

Quote:
The Encyclopędia Britannica suggests that originally this arch was replaced for each succeeding emperor, until after the reign of Conrad II, when the present arch was kept permanently
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperi...y_Roman_Empire

6) Decorating the arch with the name and titles of Emperor Conrad II (c. 1024 to 1039?). This happened at the same time as the arch was made, or sometime afterwards.

7) Attaching the arch to the circlet of plates. This could have happened before, during, or after step # 4. This happened when the arch was made, or sometime afterwards. This happened, before, during, or after step # 6.

8) Making three small holes in each of the two side plates to hang chains with jewels from. This could have been done when the plates were made or later.

9) Presumably hanging jeweled chains from the holes in step # 7, at the same time as step # 7 or later.

10) Presumably removing the jeweled chains from the holes sometime after step # 7.

11) wearing a tall miter or a series of miters within the circlet. Presumably the arch would depress the center of the miter after step # 6, while the sides of the miter would be higher than the arch.

12) Replacing the miter with a red cap.

13) Installing the present red velvet cap, in the 17th century?

14) removing the famous "orphan" gem from the center top of the front plate. It was last mentioned in 1350.

Considering the way the crown looks in the portrait of Charlemagne by Durer all the steps were completed by 1511-1513.

note that the gems in the imperial crown are all un faceted. The crown of Scotland, last remade in 1540, still has a mixture of faceted and un faceted gems.

And to get a little closer to the topic, here is an image of a sculpture of the imperial crown:

Click the image to open in full size.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/151222...=6&w=206&h=261

and another:

Click the image to open in full size.

https://media.touristtube.com/best-t...-V?id=axgX3Ojd

Last edited by MAGolding; August 6th, 2018 at 10:43 AM.
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Old August 9th, 2018, 07:00 AM   #6

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Apologies for the late response, I've been rather busy lately.

Quote:
I see the statue in a museum setting and on top of a building. Was the statue moved inside to preserve it, like the famous broze horse of Venice, and a replica placed on top of the building?
Indeed it was; it's really quite similar in a lot of ways actually, being a bronze statue stolen by a merchant republic in a war and put on top of a huge church.

Quote:
They too are very magnificent, as fine as any made anywhere in the world. Given that the Romans and others made a lot of head bust, I think they are symbols of wealth and authority, and they look cool. The artist(s) aren't known by name, by any chance?
The bronzes were discovered in an underground stash of some kind I believe, so I imagine not unfortunately. Very few artists are known outside of Greco-Roman antiquity and modernity.

Quote:
It really is a great statue. Do we know tne artist? I know most artist of this time period are unknown.
Again no, I'm afraid; the statue was made at the very edge of the period when artists start actually being named for work like this, but not quite.

Quote:
Did the statue get melted down by the Turks?
That or a cash-starved Rome, but it's not mentioned anywhere else in the sources.

To make up for my tardiness in posting here's a 10th century Byzantine statuette of Mary and Christ:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

The sculpture is quite important as one of the few extant examples of full, intentionally freestanding statuary from the middle Byzantine period. The face obviously looks a bit weird now, but I suspect, as in much Byzantine sculpture, that it would have looked very different when painted, as Byzantine carvings almost always were. In other areas, the work is well proportioned, with anatomy kept in mind and subtly outlined, and the dynamics of the cloth are portrayed in extreme and accurate detail, flowing gracefully and betraying none of the rigidity of the ivory they're carved into.
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