The Riddle of the Image: The Secret Science of Medieval Art
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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in front of which English monarchs were crowned for centuries—and analyses of these works, presenting previously unpublished technical details that shed new light on the mysteries of medieval artists.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.
phantoms from some bad dream or Frankenstein-like creatures from some genetic experiment. The hybrids are not ‘outsiders’, shunned by law-abiding citizens who make up the ‘insiders’. The monstrous hybrids are undeniably strange, but their creators – the two playful painters – were fully aware that even the apparently familiar could be strange. One example of ‘familiar strangeness’ was provided by the very pigments they used, after all, the painters knew that their white pigment came from a black
and water provide 125 the riddle of the image clues to the riddle of why Richard might have wanted to contemplate an apparently unlucky, unbalanced Diptych. Ultramarine and gold The Diptych’s painter could have made the left-hand, earthly panel predominantly watery ultramarine and the right-hand, heavenly panel predominantly fiery gold. But that would have been a bit too obvious. Ultramarine and gold both occur on both panels, reflecting the idea that everything is a combination of the
revealed through the ultramarine – a symmetrical pair of birds – echoes the Diptych’s potentially unlucky form. Paired birds are found in the Celtic tradition, but the shape they take on Edmund’s robe comes from the East, as did the silk in cloth of gold and the ultramarine in paint.62 When paired, one bird is earthly while the other is heavenly, and they are related to the motif of one bird with two heads, where one head is earthly and the other heavenly.63 In the Diptych, Richard (a king but
number four.24 Nominally, the medieval layout of London had a grid plan. Now, a grid of crossroads has a practical function that is still recognized today in cities across the world, but its origins are much more than just utilitarian. The merely functional would not have satisfied the scholarly Alfred. Indeed, the traditional view was that if cross-shaped streets were practical, then that was simply a natural and automatic consequence of their spiritual significance. In fact, the whole country
properties or for its healing and preserving ones. Painters would have been aware of both possibilities from everyday experience. Yet, from a spiritual point of view, vinegar may have played an offensive or a merciful role in lead’s path to perfection. These spiritual possibilities were relevant because, as members of the Guild of St Luke, a painter’s work was, to a greater or lesser extent, modelled on the work of a saint. According to historians, the craft guilds – which spread across Europe