MEDIEVAL PORTRAITURE: IDENTITY AS SYMBOL IN MEDIEVAL SACRED ART
Meyer, Ann R
This thesis explores the medieval concept of identity in portraiture through the iconography and symbolic programs of devotional art, in particular painting and manuscript illumination. The conceptual foundations of this thesis are based on the Christian-Platonist teachings of Saint Augustine (354-430) and Denis the Areopagite (Pseudo-Dionysius, 5th - 6th century).Early concepts of portraiture in the Middle Ages conveyed the medieval perception of the relations between the visible and invisible worlds. Medieval perceptions of likeness, identity, and character may be traced to many of Saint Augustine's teachings in the Confessions and De Doctrina Christiana. In the Confessions, he expresses the view that perception through bodily senses--sight, sound, taste, smell, touch--weigh down the soul.Our physical appearance has little to do with our essential qualities. God made Man in his own image, but there is no discernable physical appearance of God to ascertain. Therefore, God's image was illustrated through those virtues that had always been associated with God, such as charity, fortitude, and wisdom.Augustine takes great interest in how human understanding derives from an act of illumination--how the Divine intellect enlightens the human mind. He thought images could be deceptive but also recognized that they may serve as signs (signa) that could be useful in transmitting information and acknowledged that a certain degree of imitation was necessary.Pseudo Dionysius stressed that creation is an act of divine illumination, or emanation. Symbols and images participate in this process of creation through emanation, and so are necessary to humans for contemplation of the Divine. God provides images from the Holy Scripture and from nature as imperfect depictions of divinity, but they are essential, even in their imperfection, so that we may engage in communion with the Divine. Images may act as screens or veils between God and human-beings.I analyze Augustine's theories on signs and imitation as foundational sources for medieval symbolism and iconography. My analysis will then shift from Augustine's teachings to how devotional literature, painting, and manuscript illumination were also expressions of a Dionysian symbolic program. My study will include examination of how the French monarchy played a major role in advancing this program to influence new directions in the 15th century of the representation of identity and medieval portraiture. I will trace the Valois dynasty's territorial gains in the west with the inheritance of Flemish artistic expression in the late 14th and 15th centuries.I include examples of various works of art that demonstrate a convergence and evolution of these influences. In addition, I will provide evidence of how the Duchy of Burgundy influenced the spread of Dionysian ideas on beauty and representation, and how early Netherlandish art manifested these ideas in religious painting, and then flourished through the influence of the Dukes of Burgundy.
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