Classical Inspiration in Medieval Art

By Walter Oakeshott | Go to book overview

VI
THE TWELFTH CENTURY RENAISSANCE II

PROFESSOR C. S. LEWIS, in writing of the growth of courtly love poetry in his Allegory of Love, claims that 'French poets in the 11th century discovered, or invented, or were the first to express, that romantic species of passion which English poets were still writing about in the 19th. They effected', he continues, 'a change which has left no corner of our daily life untouched, and they erected impassable barriers between us and the classical past or the Oriental present. Compared with this revolution, the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.' If the history of painting were primarily under consideration, the critical change -- the change between medieval and modern -- would, I suppose, have to be put not earlier than the 14th century. But it is arguable that with sculpture a vital change took place nearly two hundred years earlier. Consider, by way of example, the small relief representing Adam and Eve, from the south porch at Rheims (I34a). Its date may be about 1240. They are as alive and as human as a Greek god and a Greek goddess. The relief carries us forward to the Adam and Eve of Dürer, leaving the withered Adam and Eve of the Hildesheim bronze doors (134b) in the archaic past. Was this work on the Rheims porch only what Dr. Bolgar called (in the phrase we examined in our last lecture, in relation to the history of learning), simply a false start? Or is this, as with literature, though somewhat later in time, one of those 'real changes in human sentiment' of which Professor C. S. Lewis speaks, holding that 'there are perhaps three or four on record' and that the awakening of an interest in courtly love is one of them? Paradoxically the very change Professor Lewis is discussing might itself be regarded from some points of view as a 'false start'. We might isolate that stereotyping of forms which takes place in some of the courtly literature, and call its later phases mere convention. We might claim that a fresh beginning had to be made with Chaucer, and yet another with Sidney and with Shakespeare. Yet in sculpture, particularly in France, there was, I think, a 'clear-cut line of development'. The

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Classical Inspiration in Medieval Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • I - Classical Origins 1
  • II - The Northumbrian Renaissance And Its Background 22
  • III - The Carolingian Renaissance 41
  • IV - The Ottonian Renaissance And the Evolution 59
  • V - The Twelfth Century Renaissance (i) 76
  • VI - The Twelfth Century Renaissance Ii 96
  • List of Illustration 113
  • Acknowledgements *
  • Plates *
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