AbstractTo modern readers and viewers, objects like the Arnolfini portrait or the Angers Apocalypse tapestry appear to be the product and preserve of an elite class of consumers in the Middle Ages. This chapter argues that our analyses of these objects should not focus exclusively, or even predominantly on elites. In addition, the essay gives a voice and a place to the workers behind art of the Middle Ages examining the economic uncertainty and instability of employment that underpinned their production. It considers entrepreneurs who saw medieval courts and elite customers as commercial opportunities to be exploited. It ends by examining elite users of these products to complicate the narratives of their consumption. Far from simply reflecting the power and status of their owners, objects like the Arnolfini portrait or the Apocalypse tapestry also conveyed the uncertainty of everyday life and the fragility of princely rule during the Middle Ages.
CitationWilson, K. A., (2019). The Hidden Narratives of Medieval Art. In Albin, A., Erler, M, ., O'Donnell, T., Paul, N, L. & Rowe, N. (2019). Whose Middle Ages? Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past (Ed.). Fordham: Fordham University Press, pp. 23-33.
PublisherFordham University Press
DescriptionWhose Middle Ages? is an interdisciplinary collection of short, accessible essays intended for the non-specialist reader and ideal for teaching at an undergraduate level. Each of twenty-two essays takes up an area where humans have dug for meaning into the medieval past and brought something distorted back into the present: in our popular entertainment; in our news, our politics, and our propaganda; and in subtler ways that inform how we think about our histories, our countries, and ourselves. Each author teases out the stakes of a history that has refused to remain past and uses the tools of the academy to read and reread familiar stories, objects, symbols, and myths. By communicating consensus positions within the academy, Whose Middle Ages? gives non-specialists access to the richness of our historical knowledge while debunking damaging misconceptions about the medieval past. Myths about the medieval period are especially beloved among the globally resurgent far right, from the crusading emblems on the shields borne by alt-right demonstrators to the harassment of actors of color by internet trolls deeply invested in the on-screen image of a lily-white medieval Europe. This collection attacks these myths directly by addressing the conditions, actions, and materials of the Middle Ages on their own terms. Each essay uses its author's academic research as a point of entry and takes care to explain how the author knows what she or he knows and what kinds of tools, bodies of evidence, and theoretical lenses allow scholars to write with certainty about elements of the past to a level of detail that might seem unattainable. By demystifying the methods of scholarly inquiry, Whose Middle Ages? serves as an antidote not only to the far right's errors of fact and interpretation, but to its assault on scholarship and expertise as valid means for the acquisition of knowledge.
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