Month: December 2015

Zennor’s medieval mermaid

In May 1958 the historian Peter Pool wrote the following to preface a short booklet entitled ‘Legends and Traditions of Zennor’:

‘Although in the century since the coming of the railway Cornwall has lost most of its individuality, its remoteness has throughout history tended to make it a place where old ways and old beliefs have lingered longest. Furthermore, such things have always tended to be best preserved in the Lands End Peninsula, also called West Penwith, nowhere more so than in the ‘High Country’, the name given to the beautiful parish of Zennor and its neighbours, Towednack and Morvah’.

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Colour and illusion in medieval sculpture

Most of the medieval sculpture we see today is incomplete. This is because it has often lost its surface finish of bright colour – paint and gilding – which was perhaps the most important aspect of the work in the eyes of our medieval ancestors.

Our expectation of sculpture today is that the viewer should be able to see the primary material out of which it is made. This derives from a post-medieval (specifically eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) attitude that valued ‘truth to materials’ above all else. By contrast, in the Middle Ages, viewers did not consider the interior, primary material to be the true form, but rather the exterior polychrome layers.

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