Lovers seldom come to this deep alley,
Their spirits have to linger on in dreams.
Whose fragrance of damask is this?
From which tower does this breeze blow the song?
Sounds of drums in the street,
Disturb my morning sleep.
Magpies chirping in the courtyard,
Confuse my spring sorrows.
How can I care
For things of this world?
Ten thousand miles, my life,
Like a boat unmoored.
The Late Spring (暮春即事) by Yu Xuanji (魚玄機). Tang dynasty.
Concubine, nun, and courtesan Yu Xuanji was a Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty distinguished for her direct, autobiographical poetic style. Yu lived a short life abounding with scandal and strife; she had an affair with renowned lyricist Wen Tingyun (温庭筠), lived promiscuously, and allegedly beat her maid to death, for which she was executed. Stories of Yu’s sexual adventures have lead some to credit her as the first well-known openly bisexual woman in China.
Yu’s work was published in a collection entitled Fragments of a Northern Dreamland, which has since been lost. The forty-nine surviving poems were published in a “freak anthology” in the Song dynasty alongside poems attributed to foreigners and ghosts. Yu’s vivid and deeply emotional poetry is reminiscent of the post-Romantic cult of personal expression popular in western poetry.
this day in 705, Wu Zetian, the only sovereign empress of China, died
aged 81. Born during the Tang dynasty, she entered the court of Emperor
Taizong as a concubine when she was 14 years old. After Taizong’s death,
the new emperor Gaozong defied custom and chose the well-educated Wu to
remain as his favourite concubine. She rose to become Gaozong’s empress
in 655, after eliminating the current empress by allegedly killing her
own child and framing the empress. The new empress quickly silenced the
elder statesmen who opposed her position on the grounds that she did not
hail from the established aristocracy, with critics exiled and, often,
executed. Emperor Gaozong was a sickly man, and frequently entrusted
affairs of state to Wu, who managed imperial business essentially
single-handedly. Wu was a capable leader, known for her sound
management, her decisiveness, and her ruthlessness; these attributes won
her the respect, and fear, of the Chinese imperial court. Her greatest
accomplishments included agricultural and education reform,
stabilisation of the imperial bureaucracy, and imperial expansion. Upon
Gaozong’s death in 683, his son by Wu ascended to the throne, but,
concerned by the machinations of his ambitious wife, Wu had him exiled
and installed her other son as emperor. In 690, when she was 65 years
old, the empress claimed the throne for herself, and ruled as a
sovereign empress for 15 years. The question of succession led Wu to
designate her exiled son as heir, rather than choosing a member of her
own family, thus ensuring the continuation of the Tang dynasty. In 705,
senior officials conspired to compel the aging Wu to yield power to her
son. She accepted their demands and retired from the throne, dying in
December of that year. Despite decades of condemnation as a vicious
usurper, the achievements of Empress Wu Zetian, who defied the gender
conventions of her day, are increasingly being acknowledged.
We have already seen that “Vikings” were incredibly crafty, but now we shall focus on their actual art form. Their art was not like our standard for art today (though, that standard, in all honesty, can be rather low). By that, I mean to say that they did not simply “waste” their creation by sticking it on a wall. They used their art, and, in some ways, their art made those objects more powerful.
Art may not seem to be important when studying the “Vikings,” but classifying art still has its importance. One benefit of this practice is that it helps establish a chronology. Yet, most importantly, art and artistic styles show us their mentality and influences – who they interacted with and took inspiration from. Their art tells a story, one that was originally inspired by Celtic art, but then moved to a “Scandinavian” style, until eventually integrating Christian elements. Art tells a story as we trace it through time.
My conversation of each art style will be rather basic, with at least one example for each style. This is not meant to be a cohesive study on the matter, but a general insight into their art. Before we begin, I would like to mention that “Zoomorphic Art” is a form of art that uses animal-like forms and motifs. Also, this lesson is more focused on the images than on textual explanation. Do not worry yourself with remembering the subtle differences between styles. If anything, just enjoy the interesting, lavishly decorated objects.
As a zoomorphic art form, animals are a common motif for this style. This style, the earliest of the “Viking” set of art forms, reveals gripping beasts with triangular, tapered bodies. The space in which they art filled was full, leaving very little empty space. This results in very elaborate and detailed artwork.
Oseburg Ship Detail (from where one name for the style originates):
Date Range: ca. 850 – 970.
This style was the most Scandinavian in nature. It was also the most widely spread. This style rises alongside the very height of the Viking Age, and thus gives us no surprise that it is the most Scandinavian and widespread of the art styles we are discussing. It was also the last fully pagan period for their art style.
This style features tightly interlaced, ribbon like beasts, often singular and without multiple other animals lacing around it (but not always). These animals had pretzel-shape, or ribbon-like, bodies.
Bronze Pendant from Hedeby:
Date Range: mid-10th century.
This art style, emerging during the early phases of Christianization in Scandinavia, features ribbon-like animals. Unlike the Borre style, these animals have “S” shapes, versus the pretzel shape. This style is much more spacious and open than previous ones.
King Gorm’s Cup, ca. 958:
Date Range: late 10th century.
This style still features ribbon-like animals (this aspect really sticks, doesn’t it?), yet the bodies of these animals are much more substantial. They are filled with figures twisting around. By this time, Christian motifs had begun to work their way into the styles, such as the motif of the lion and the snake.
Jelling Stone (still Mammen, just located at Jelling):
Date Range: ca. 990-1050.
This style is very similar to Mammen, but tighter and featuring more tendril designs. As earlier styles had Celtic influence, this style has more Anglo-Saxon influence (partly due to their experience abroad in places featuring these styles, such as England). This style truly demonstrated the syncretism between the Scandinavian pagan styles and the new Christian styles they were incorporating. Thus, this art reveals some of the first patterns for consistent evidence of conversion. Of course, not all works of the Ringerlike Style were Christian.
Date Range: 1040-1110.
Many may criticize this style curly because it was the least “traditional” of the Viking styles. By that I mean to say it was the most influenced by Christian elements. Yet, it is foolish to reject such a beautiful style for such petty reasons, for this style is a careful blend; one does not conquer the other. For this is truly the final phase of Viking art.
This style features intricate animals interweaving, as we have seen throughout these styles. The animals have chunky bodies, as we began to see in the Mammen style. Everything is curvy and asymmetrical, balancing instead around a system of thinly laced ribboning. This style was most often featured in wood carving, especially on stave churches. Yet, runestones and metalwork also featured this style. Romanesque art would replace this (and this is the true shame, I must say).
Urnes Stave Church Portal (Entrance):
This post is already terribly long, but I could not possibly leave out this type of art. This art form is essentially storytelling through pictures, as we have actually already seen with the Sigurðr Runestone. The best example of this art form, though, would be the Gotland Picture Stones (dates ranging from the 5th to 11th centuries). The Stone from Ardre is also a good example (seen below), dating from the 8th-9th century. This stone features Óðinn and Sleipnir as well as Þórr. In short, this art form often depicts mythological stories and figures. Yet, these works are also not often very clear. Ships are also extremely popular motifs for this style. Nearly all of these things I have told of the Narrative Art form is seen on the Ardre Runestone:
In short, there is quite a lot to Viking Art. Yet, as the title of this lesson suggests, every object they placed their art upon had a specific function. Ships, jewelry, cups, axes, storytelling stones, buildings, memorials, and so forth. Art was integrated into life. It was not its own sphere, but rather a natural element of every object. Art gave objects more meaning – more power. They conveyed wealth, culture, and history.
I hope you all enjoyed this lesson!
Skál og ferð vel.
Next Week’s Lesson: Lesson 19 – Viking Warfare.
Sources and Notations:
[Gen.] Jennifer Dukes-Knight, “Crafts, Art, and Weaponry,” Lecture, Viking History, University of South Florida, 2015. || I had little extra input to make this lesson (again), so there are clearly a lack of notations this time. If there is any aspect of this lesson that you would like more detail, send me an ask and I shall research it for you.
[Fig.1] “Oseberg Ship – Detail,” via Maraire on Flickr. (link)
[Fig.2] “Bronze pendant from Hedeby (Haithabu).” by Cassiopeia via Wikipedia Commons. (link)
[Fig.3] “Gorm’s Silver Cup,” via Green, J. R. (1902) A Short History of the English People from the Wikipedia Commons. (link)
[Fig.4] “Viking Axe from Mammen,” via the National Museum of Denmark. (link)
[Fig.5] “Lion Runestone at Jelling,” via Sven Rosborn from the Wikipedia Commons. (link)
[Fig.6] “Sigurdsristningen,” by Ann-Sofi Cullhed via Wikipedia Commons. (link)
[Fig.7] “Urnes Portal,” by Nina Aldin Thune (?) via Wikipedia Commons. (link).
[Fig.8] “Ardre Runestone,” From Ardre Parish, Gotland, Sweden. Now at the National Historical Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo via Wikipedia Commons. (link)
Consider this manuscript in light of the article I posted 2 days ago about historical European mixed race families. A lot of similar articles go right from Roman Britain to Renaissance Italy, but documents like this that often bridge the historical “gap” because go unremarked upon because they’re often not considered analgous to written records or artistic depictions. What they do, rather, is show that in the imagination of artists during this time, racial diversity was part of their social consciousness and how they envisioned concepts like “a family”. My thanks to Dr Caitlin R Green on bringing this manuscript to my attention.
Forty years old this year, the coconut sketch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail may be one of the most iconic opening scenes in film history. The pillar of chivalry, Arthur, King of the Britons, appears riding an imaginary horse like a child on a playground. His faithful servant, Patsy, accompanies him, banging two coconut halves together to make the sound of the horse’s hooves. Arthur and Patsy are very, very serious about their quest. They are the only ones who are.
The whole scene concentrates on those coconuts. The put-upon straight-man of the film, Arthur, gamely tries to explain the existence of coconuts in medieval England (“they could have been carried”). The grail remains all but forgotten as the guards on the castle walls uproariously tear down his explanations. (“Are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?”)… Audiences are left in stitches and thoroughly convinced of the impossibility of coconuts existing in medieval England.
Except medieval England was lousy with coconuts. No, really, and Monty Python may well have known it.
They’re Oxbridge men, after all, and several Oxford and Cambridge colleges still preserve coconuts given to them in the fifteenth century. Here’s a fifteenth-century coconut cup that came to Oxford more recently. While parts of it were added more recently, the original elements are medieval. This is the only medieval English coconut cup currently displayed online, and it shows how the shell was strapped into a goblet form using a harness of silver or gold. The English continued to make coconut cups after the medieval period—in the sixteenth century, seventeenth century, and beyond. They were numerous enough that by the fifteenth century, individual households might boast several coconut cups. One humble esquire highlighted the prestige of these cups when he willed his coconut cup to his heir in tail male, just like the Bennett estate in Pride and Prejudice or the Crawley estate in Downton Abbey.
But why make luxurious golden goblets out of coconuts? And how did they get to medieval England anyway, if swallows didn’t carry them?
In the Middle Ages, coconut palms were not yet as widespread as they are today. Coconuts grew in their native Maldives, in India, and perhaps parts of western Africa and the Middle East. (They were also growing in western Central America, but had gotten there on their own, crossing the pacific like small, tasty boats without a swallow in sight.) Coconuts formed a regular part of commerce across the Indian Ocean from Roman times, and this trade appears to have continued with little disruption straight through the ancient and medieval periods. Given England’s Roman history, it isn’t impossible that Life of Brian-era English might also have had access to coconuts. These coconuts weren’t transported all that way to be made into cups, however. They were imported as medicine.
Beginning regularly once again in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, medicinal coconuts arrived in England. This time, they were packed on Venetian galleys along with luxuries from silks to sugar, and next to exotic pets like monkeys and parrots. In turn, the Venetians got the coconuts from Alexandria and from the same trade networks that the coconuts had been part of for millennia.
They were not called coconuts, either. The name “coconut” derives from the Portuguese and dates to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries-after the medieval period. In the Middle Ages, Europe knew the coconut as the “Nut of India” or “Great Nut.” It was the great, big whopping nut that was transported all the way from India—the only nut large enough to make into a drinking cup.
You’ve always loved history. Regardless of geography or blood,
knowing how the past functioned, not in dates and names but in daily
details, has always been fascinating. So this is not unknown ground for
you. And Renaissance Faires are fun: spending the day outside, geeking
endlessly about the minutia of history with other like-minded folk,
doing hands on demonstrations for kids. There’s nothing here you don’t
Sure, you may be the only Black person there, definitely one of a
few, but don’t let that stop you. The chances of anyone throwing rocks
at you are low. The chances of anyone laughing at you are high, but when
has that stopped you before? […]
Some will try to tell you that
you are wrong, out of time, out of place. They are wrong. African people
have always been travelers, traders, and scholars. The Mediterranean
has never been impenetrable and we have always been everywhere.
Most modern chest-high shirt were made with two piece of rectangular fabric, sewn together on the side, but leaving some portion on the top separate. The design was inspired by andon bakama but the vents are not visible when worn as the top of the skirt should be overlapping.
The dressing process:
Historically, some skirts did have very visible splits. Hence, the outer chest-high skirt was mere decorative, unlike today’s skirt, which is the actual layer that functions to cover up the torso properly. They were mostly from late Tang.
One of the cons of using this modern cutting for chest-high skirt is that it is possible to made the front piece longer than the back piece so that the length of the skirt is just right for the both the front and the back of the body. This is a modern concern, as seen above, those ladies doesn’t seem to care that their skirt was touching the ground.
Hope this answer your question! Do contact me if you have any more problem.
Tang stuff – one of my current research bits is the wrap vs. split skirt.