Images of Older People in Western Art and Society

Images of Older People in Western Art and Society

Images of Older People in Western Art and Society

Images of Older People in Western Art and Society

Synopsis

How older people have been perceived during various periods of history from the Middle Ages to the 19th century is the focus of this heavily illustrated study of the elderly in Western society. Covey presents a wide range of portrayals of the elderly in both art and literature and goes on to analyze, in detail, the images and symbols of aging, sexuality, family, and death found in these depictions. His analyses of the works reflect a variety of disciplines, including the fine arts, gerontology, history, sociology, psychology, and literature. This book increases our consciousness of images of older people in Western history by debunking common images and providing background on how current images and perceptions have developed.

Excerpt

This book was written to help us understand how older people were perceived in earlier periods of Western history. It'draws on art, literature, and historical information from earlier times. The period that I selected for study ranges from the late Middle Ages through the nineteenth century. The late Middle Ages was chosen as the starting point because it represents a period of change in both artistic techniques and attitudes toward older people. It was at the close of the Middle Ages that artists began to portray the individual characteristics of their subjects, including age. In prior centuries, the individual was relatively insignificant, and artistic images of old age were rather sterile, shedding little light on perceptions of older people in the first millenium of the Christian era. The Middle Ages also gave rise to the use of perspective, and human subjects began to be shown in natural contexts. The thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries saw an increasing effort to depict subjects as individuals and as they actually appear (Hofstatter, 1968). This innovation allows us, despite some limitations, to obtain for the first time a good notion of how old age was perceived. It also means that, by the end of the Middle Ages, older people were being portrayed in sufficient detail to pick them out by their old age.

At the closing of the Middle Ages and especially at the opening of the Renaissance, a new orientation to life could be witnessed. Life in this world took on greater importance. The focus on the individual that emerged with the Renaissance brought attention to the older people. As Western society turned toward understanding humankind, a natural curiosity grew about aging. Older people increasingly became the subjects of art. Thus, beginning with this era, we can learn how older people were viewed by taking a look at Western art.

The Renaissance, and especially the Northern Renaissance, provides us with many important images of older people. The rise of portraiture and the emphasis on individuality contributed to the creation of many works of art involving older . . .

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