Home » Artwork » Two Medieval Monks Invent Art Two Medieval Monks Invent Art Mallory Ortberg on March 11, 2014 in Artwork 12342107 Commentshttp%3A%2F%2Fthe-toast.net%2F2014%2F03%2F11%2Ftwo-monks-invent-art%2FTwo+Medieval+Monks+Invent+Art2014-03-11+16%3A00%3A29Mallory+Ortberghttp%3A%2F%2Fthe-toast.net%2F%3Fp%3D12342 From the year 800 AD to 1450 the entirety of Europe’s approach to painting was “It’s impossible to know what an animal looks like, just draw a guy’s head on it.” This is their story. MONK #1: what do lions look like in the face i mean what do their faces look like MONK #2: worried MONK #1: what does it look like when some people are far away but some are closer MONK #2: draw them all exactly the same size MONK #1: are people the same height as castles MONK #2: pretty much yeah MONK #1: how big are most peoples foreheads relative to the rest of their face MONK #2: oh it’s 90% of the face, definitely MONK #1: thanks MONK #1: what size and also location are most human breasts on the body MONK #2: pretty much anywhere just jam em on the torso wherever MONK #2: the important thing is to just always draw human faces on dogs MONK #1: why is that sorry is that a dumb question? MONK #2: kind of MONK #1: what do whales look like MONK #2: pretty much exactly like squirrels or any other animal but in front of a blue background MONK #1: hey so do human heads grow on big leafless trees a lot or just sometimes MONK #2: mm probably a lot MONK #1: what do babies look like MONK #2: ….huh good question MONK #1: kind of like a very old man? MONK #2: but also baboons MONK #1: dang whats a table look like MONK #2: oh wow MONK #1: i know right? MONK #2: ahhh i KNOW this MONK #1: can rabbits stand up MONK #2: yeah MONK #1: how big are books MONK #2: like half the size of a castle MONK #1: wow ur good at this MONK #1: do you want to go get lunch MONK #2: lets pray for four hours first MONK #1: ok Tags: art, medieval getting used pretty loosely here, monks, perspective, poking gentle fun at medieval art, two monks inventing things Related PostsTwo Medieval Monks Invent BestiariesTwo Medieval Monks Invent Dinner PartiesReading Lines in Pictures: Why I Teach Visual LiteracyParis in Paintings“I found myself in the work”: Visiting Henri Matisse’s The Cut-Outs at MoMAValentines for the Indifferent About Author by Mallory Ortberg Mallory is an Editor of The Toast. 12342Latest Commentshttp%3A%2F%2Fthe-toast.net%2F2014%2F03%2F11%2Ftwo-monks-invent-art%2FTwo+Medieval+Monks+Invent+Art2014-03-11+16%3A00%3A29Mallory+Ortberghttp%3A%2F%2Fthe-toast.net%2F%3Fp%3D12342 Es_Petal I think human-faced dog riding human-faced sheep is my favourite! queenofbithynia ha ha ha oh man that sheep is so mad don't tell me that wasn't drawn from life, that is just how a sheep would look in that situation BourneApprox Well yes, but babies *do* look like a cross between old men and baboons! osutein MONK #1: What did buildings in the Holy Land look like 1,000 years ago? MONK #2: Same as they do in England right now. MONK #1: Did Moses have horns? MONK #2: Why not. MONK #1: What does Satan look like? MONK #2: Like a dog, but greener than normal, and with wings, and a strangely compelling butt. MONK #1: What do peasants look like? MONK #2: Content. naglayaxuliganka MONK #1: What was the infant Jesus like? MONK #2: He used to stare unblinking with his old man eyes while breastfeeding. MONK #1: Like this? [shows painting] MONK #2: Yeah, but also with a hint of contempt. osutein MONK #1: What would infant Jesus do with his hands while in the Madonna's lap? MONK #2: Making The Sign of the Shocker. MONK #1: Surely you jest. MONK #2: [shows every previous depiction of the infant Christ] MONK #1: I see. icebergmama this is the best. ahhh i KNOW this Emby Holy shit but the actual history of how the idea that spelling even needed to be standardized is super fucking interesting, and then the dictionary wars and really now, this is deserving of its own article. Spelling is weird and amazing. bookwormV The history of the English language is the best. There are reasons for now-nonstandard spellings! Just not reasons that are currently relevant! Emby <img src="http://blog.cnbeyer.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/original1-e1387009051931.jpg"> figwiggin "It's a living." SwagHorse today on "Monty Python or real life" Laura It's better with monkeys. (it's always better with monkeys) <img src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_yAdUICQZuA4/R7X6neKqQAI/AAAAAAAAAE8/lRB9YKI0kAs/s1600-h/MONKEYBUTTTRUMPET.jpg"> littlehuntingcreek Use a very ornate F for "S" and whenever in doubt use TWO of them Ophelia …and vice versa. Tikabelle Thus rendering us the acronym, "FFS." Myrtle And now I need one for "spittake." Tikabelle My work here is ffinisshed. Audley One time, I was reading this French renaissance text and philosophie was spelled filozofie. Also, there was a word that looked like vniuers and it took me forrrrrever to realize it was univers. bookwormV A friend of mine was reading some early modern stuff about religion, and was greatly amused by the fact that "popery" was rendered in such a way that it was very like "pot-pourri". Down with the evils of pot-pourri! Audley Well, we all know that the worst part of popery is all that incense. It's their way of getting that point across. SarahDances It's like with Russian icons. Painter 1: How do I paint the baby Jesus? Painter 2: You know. Like Jesus. But smaller. Painter 1: Oh okay. Painter 1: How do I show this fountain is round? Painter 2: Hm. Try painting half of it like it looks from the side, and the other half like it looks from the top. Painter 1: Lol, omg, duh. rkfire Painter 3: Don't forget the abs on baby Jesus! Dude is RIPPED. thenotestaken If there's supposed to be a picture showing baboon old man babies, I can't see it :( malloryelis no youre good prost MONK #1: dang whats a table look like MONK #2: oh wow MONK #1: i know right? MONK #2: ahhh i KNOW this OK monks, I relate to this way too much. I've been trying to learn to draw recently, and it turns out my visual memory is hideous. If I'm looking at the thing or a picture of the thing, I'm ok, but apparently even the most basic concepts are stored in my brain as text only. Actually, I'm really interested in hearing from you artsy types: how often do you draw from life or "reference pictures" versus just making things up? Ophelia So, it depends a bit. Do you want to draw "a table" or "that specific table"? Because I'd say I can easily draw "a table" from memory, but to draw a specific table, then I'd need to see the table, or a photo of the table. Same goes with faces. This is random, but it always felt a little like cheating to draw 3-D objects/people from photos, because the photo has already shown how the lines should look in 2-D. I find it much harder to draw from life. breakfast I teach some drawing 1 classes, and I am ALWAYS telling my students to stop drawing from memory/drawing what they know. At the beginning of learning to draw, it is important to learn to see, and look really hard, at least if people want to learn to draw 'realistically'. Draw as many things from observation as you can, from as many angles as you can, and once you become sensitive to how things behave in space, it will be much easier later on to visualize what you want to draw and draw from memory or imagination. I don't draw much from observation now, unless I am drawing with my students in class ( I don't draw many 'things' these days), but I really think using references (real life > photos>memory) is so helpful in the beginning. Also, I know I sound like a fuddy-duddy, but most of my students want to learn to draw 'good', so I try to impart the tools to do that. ( I also try to introduce the idea that realistic=/=good, necessarily) prost Yes, it's crazy how little I actually see most of the time. Trying to draw makes me feel slightly stoned, like wow did you ever really just LOOK at a table, man? I think in the back of my mind I equated "ability to draw" and "being good at Pictionary" and never realized how much drawing was actually about looking at things and putting down what you see. Myrtle I'm working with this very thing (art therapy after injury) and am amazed at how often I will drift from observing the scene in front of me and find I've been making up the drawing. It's also difficult to portray spatial relationships accurately. But it's right in front of me, that's the boggler. ginkgotree I for one can't make anything up. I relate to these monks pretty hard myself. What does a table look like? What are birds? We just don't know! thewhelk I used to draw exclusively from reference but now I'm pretty confidant in making shit up cause I've internalized a lot of forms. Life drawing is like 80% measuring and comparison. figwiggin Everyone has basically the same face, right? Oh yeah, yeah definitely. roumbaba This is weird but I went to a small medieval-architecture'd village in Spain one time where everyone DID have very similar faces (it was a little creepy!). I sort of assume that's how it was back then–small, extremely homogenous villages? omg_kitties Ahahahah I studied manuscripts in grad school and have two medievalish dolphin tattoos (one wasn't enough, duh) that look nothing like dolphins and I find this SO DELIGHTFUL. dakimel I do hope that your dolphins have aberrant coloring. Ophelia "Hey, do people and objects have shadows?" "No, definitely not. That would be creepy." AmazingSandwich *coughs* Lady on the right doing kung fu in the pond has a very shapely bottom. *coughs* catoclock I have been waiting for this since its twitter inception! SO PUMPED. Nicole When I took Art History in college, the prof said that the reason old paintings didn't have perspective was because humans literally couldn't see perspective. Like, literally, their eyes weren't registering it. At some point some artist "discovered" the vanishing point the same way that Cantor discovered set theory, and then suddenly EVERYONE could see perspective. I am not sure this is true. keythah I feel like this is some What the Bleep Do We Know?/The Secret "quantum" nonsense. Tikabelle That… what? I can't even… NO! That is some bullshit right there and your art history prof should be required to teach from under a bridge from now on. naglayaxuliganka This reminds me of RadioLab's episode on color, where they posited that people used to perceive colors differently, and it wasn't until they started making names for them that we got our "rainbow," so to speak. Not sure if I buy it, but it's interesting… rkfire I can see it. Some languages use the same word for blue and green, and just use adjectives to specific what shade of.. that word they're talking about. Case in point: Vietnamese. P.S. This made for a very interesting Christmas where my mom had tried to communicate to my sister that she wanted a navy blue hoodie, just like the one she currently had, but my sister thought she wanted a green hoodie. Neither one of them thought to clarify with the usual "sky [word]" versus "grass [word]" adjectives used in Vietnamese. I heard about this secondhand when I was asking my sister for tips on what to get mom for Xmas so.. I got my mom the green hoodie. Fortunately, she likes it anyway. Absotively English didn't have a word for orange at one point. The colours we call orange were considered shades of red. rkfire Yes! Also, didn't the Dutch have to do with how "orange" got put into modern, western conception of colors? And they liked it so much that they use it in all of their national sports teams? Absotively I don't know! My understanding was that once oranges (the fruit) became well-known in England, they started calling the colour after the fruit instead of calling it yellow-red, and eventually the new name took over. But I have no idea where I learned that, so I could be totally wrong. Girl Detective I learnt it from QI! Zach The Dutch word for "orange" (the fruit) is "sinaasappel" — "Chinese apple". I don't think this is the same word as the House of Orange but I'm genuinely unsure. osutein Yeah, Japanese is similar. "Go" traffic lights and foliage (grass, forests) are blue. Light blue is literally "water color" and isn't considered a kind of blue. Same with light green. This happens to my wife and me fairly frequently. [Osutein and his wife stopped at a stoplight. Osutein is driving and thinking about things] WIFE: It's blue. ME: What? WIFE: IT'S BLUE! ME: What's blue? WIFE: IT'S BLUE, IT'S BLUE! GO! ME: What on earth are we talking about? The sky? The ocean? The cat people in Avatar? [Furious horns honk behind us until the light turns red again] Myrtle I want to side with this? In an ongoing game, I like to try to hear English as if I didn't understand it, just to hear what it would sound like, to a non-speaker. Both of us have normal senses, yet only one of us can decode it. Girl Detective Ancient greek only had a few colours as well. The point here is that colour, although it seems so primal, is actually a really abstract concept. For the longest time, things were the colours they were. And as a method of categorisation, colour is pretty useless. Edible plants is a useful category. Hot things is useful. Sharpness, or hardness. But how meaningful is it to group together sunset, raspberries, blood, certain rocks and birds? What purpose does that serve? You can see that it might take language quite a well to get to the point of taking that one aspect out of the qualities of objects. One group of people I heard about had words that categorised things from ripeness to decay. THAT'S useful. And as the culture developed they started to use those words in a more abstracted way (this comes from a podcast but I can't think which) osutein Wouldn't it be impossible for humans to build things like pyramids and hallways without being able to see "perspective"? I'm gonna have to call baloney on this one. malloryelis this is like when calvin's dad told him people used to be black and white and that's why there are no color photos from the 1800s highfivesforall Yeah, I have to imagine they took something true – that the trick to painting perspective onto a 2-D surface did in fact need to be discovered at some point, as it's not an automatic thing – to a whole new level, thereby rendering the kernel of truth invisible. Ophelia I think your professor is trolling you, a la this old Calvin & Hobbes strip: http://calvin-and-hobbes-comic-strips.blogspot.co… SarcasticFringehead I mean, people had depth perception in the past, I assume. It would be pretty hard to hunt, like, mammoths & shit without it, probably. I would buy that translating that onto a flat surface could have taken some innovation, but I'm pretty sure our ancestors had at least a vague idea of how far away things were. osutein Yeah, I find it hard to believe that early humans were like, "Oh shit, look at that tiny saber tooth tiger! It's so small and cute! Oh shit it's growing right before our eyes! RUN!!!" SarcasticFringehead "Turns out the edge of that cliff was closer than I thought! Too bad I had no way of knowing that before I walked right off of it!" osutein "I was just trying to get to that thin ribbon of water that is now rapidly expanding in front of me!" toastbartender it must have been a joke. profs are bad at jokes. this must've have been a joke. TELL ME IT WAS A JOKE. Robert of Bellême He was either pulling your leg or a professional idiot. The reason things lack perspective, have inappropriate heights etc. is that showering then realistically is significantly less important to a medieval illuminator than conveying information concisely and effectively. More important people are bigger, objects are viewed from multiple angles simultaneously so you can easily tell what they are, battles take place seemingly metres apart so you can tell who fought and who won in seconds. A lot of these illuminations were smaller than a postcard, some significantly so, like the marginalia. That's a lot of information to convey in a very small space As for the breasts, some of it is monks being cloistered but guys like Bronzino also had women with grapefruit boobs, so I think there's something else going on, but I'm not an art historian, just a medievalist. liznieve Use of mathematical construction of perspectives (one point, two point, etc.) really took off in the Renaissance. There were earlier attempts, obviously, to try to capture it, but the Renaissance was when it really was developed as a codified process, with foreshortening, etc. Humans definitely knew about this before though, it just didn't matter as much as conveying a shit ton of information. CordeliaFitz Have you seen the Ugly Renaissance Babies tumblr? It's magical. http://uglyrenaissancebabies.tumblr.com/ tubatoothpaste OMGGGGGGGG naglayaxuliganka There goes my afternoon… highfivesforall OH MY GOD THE CHERUBIM BLOWING BUBBLES WITH SOMEONE'S BUTT SarcasticFringehead that is fucking amazing Megano! OK, ladies did pluck their hair to have that 90% face look though, I think we can let that slide. I am 100% not surprised monks don't know what women's breasts look like though. queenofbithynia god I do kind of want to do the head plucking thing, maybe widow's peak it up a little. it is a fine fine look and it is the opposite of all modern beauty trends, right, which are all about covering and camouflaging and spackling over your horrible human features so that nobody has to see more of them than absolutely necessary. whereas this look just shouts, MORE FACE. & if you have no more to show, get you some tweezers and make more. That's a message I like to hear. plus check out the rouge application on the human (?) in the sad lion picture! Those are some interesting areas to highlight for sure. annabelle apparently breasts looked so weird cause they weren't allowed to use actual women as studies since that was kind of scandalous, so they would use bare-chested men in sittings then just. slap some tits on. Lily B Before she went bald, Divine shaved her hairline WAAAY back, And took her eyebrows off to. Her reasoning? "More room for MORE makeup, Darling!! http://images1.laweekly.com/imager/divine/u/origi… rkfire shit me and my fivehead were clearly born in the wrong time period, aside from you know, everything else. Vera_Knoop I mean, to be fair, neither did Michelangelo: http://renresearch.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/mi… Megano! Were those like, a fix after some Puritans lopped them off at some point! Michaelangelo was all about making sure stuff is anatomically correct! (Plus I know he's seen boobs.) MaxMarvel I know nothing about art but it looks like Michelangelo carved a dude torso and then went "whoopsadoodle" and bolted some boobs on. hazelshade Ooh, ooh–I know this one! My art history professor published a paper in collaboration with a doctor friend, theorizing that Michelangelo was depicting an older woman in an advanced stage of breast cancer. The statue is Night and is paired with three others depicting life at different stages. Night is old age; the woman is at the end of life. Megano! 18th Century Dude 1: Man, when Are you supposed to Capitalize Stuff? Dude 2: You capitalize that Shit wherever it Feels right, My Brosef. Ophelia Monk 1: "Hey, do people and objects have shadows?" Monk 2: "No, why would you even think that? That's creepy." Ophelia Sorry, couldn't tell that already posted :-/ Comment fail. ayaggy MALLORY. You have magically gone back in time and rescued the little part of my soul that died during Medieval Art and Architecture, which was taught by an ex-nun who always wore a blue smock over her clothes in the classroom. It was from 3-5 in the afternoon and I would always fall asleep and sometimes actually stick my face to the desk with drool. kbturner77 The boobies in the first boob picture bother me a lot. Like why is she naked? Nobody else is? And why is her right boob on sideways? lawrenceevalyn I'm sorry, I realise all the naked ladies in that pond are distracting, but I think we need to discuss THE DISTRESSED DEER WITH SHAPELY MAN-LEGS AmazingSandwich I clicked to embiggen that picture and was like what in the actual fuck is going on here. lawrenceevalyn (Well, it's probably Acteon, who got turned into a stag and ripped apart by his own dogs as punishment for peeping on Artemis and her huntresses while they bathed, but still, where are the rest of his clothes? Does he still have human legs in there? Does he still have a human ass? Why is he just sitting right at the edge of the pond? What was he doing??) SarcasticFringehead Dear ancient Greeks/less ancient artists: seriously, what in the actual fuck is going on here? tragicallyludicrous Apparently Barney was right in that shooting a deer is like shooting a beautiful man. uwsmom I hate to get technical but that's Hebrew in the first picture and there's Arabic in one further down. I don't think monks made those. malloryelis you don't hate getting technical at all, you love it thewhelk oh thank god i didn't want to be the first person to point that out and expose myself as a tedious art nerd Teka Lynn …and I'm really going to be That Person and say that it's probably Persian rather than Arabic. Sorry. hopelessshade Yeah none of the canvas paintings on here are monks, we knew that already. A Cranach, for starters. (I could reverse image search and pretend my AH degree gave me omniscience, but eh) Pam Actually, it's Farsi. The Hebrew could have been done in Europe, since there were Jewish illuminators in those days, but the other, no… Their art is much more exact in many ways, although Persian/Moghul, etc. art certainly has it's perspective issues too, and lots of worried animals :) pixieupatree Aware I'm stringing this out even further, but Persian and Farsi basically refer to the same language, unless you're talking about the Afghan, Tajik or Parsi variations. micah I'm actually thinking that first one is Aramaic, because of דספרא… that first letter is an Aramaic prefix meaning 'of' or 'from', rather than Hebrew, which would be ש; and ספרא is a book of commentary on part of the old testament. But your general point still stands. Myrtle Monks texting with innocence and wonder intact. See, kids, that's how people texted back before Twitter. Different world. Karen Yuan Monk 2 is a lil shit yrpretendfriend Monk 1: "How are babies born?" Monk 2: "Oh, nobody knows. Nobody knows." <img src= "http://be.oldgate.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/coverpic7343.gif"> yrpretendfriend "How are babies born?" "Oh, nobody knows, nobody knows" <img src="http://www.bl.uk/learning/images/medieval/women/16g-l.jpg" width="500"> Pam Love. Only gotta say though, about the foreheads…they plucked them that way, if I'm not mistaken. It was considered beautiful. So for once, those illuminators and painters were likely accurate! moxycrimefighter This reminds of one of my favorite books from childhood, about the factory where angels invented animals and the angel who had a terribly difficult time with the Lion. It is wonderful: http://www.amazon.com/Lion-Picture-Puffin-books-W… jimmy This is funny. I never noticed that everyone was the same size. Valentina I am basically crying. I just did the airsucking "80s movie nerd" laugh so loud in my office that people came over to investigate. BRA-VO. Sparrow The forehead one is actually more accurate than you'd think, because it was the fashion for women to pluck the hair out to elevate their hairlines. She probably looked pretty much exactly like that. miscisdrist Degree in medieval art reporting, can substantiate. 10/10 accurate Lucy chihuahuas looking like medieval paintings medievaldogs.tumblr.com/ muttershanks look, i know i'm late to the party but i only got halfway through reading this before i started crying at my desk at work, and i had to actually leave the building i was laughing and crying so hard, but then i came back inside and right as i was passing the door to my supervisors office, i thought "hey what to whales look like" "pretty much like squirrels or any other animal, but in front of a blue background" and i LOST IT and now i think i'm probably fired.