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Thread: Medieval Artists Were Really Bad At Drawing Lions

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    Medieval Artists Were Really Bad At Drawing Lions

    https://daily.jstor.org/why-are-medieval-lions-so-bad/

    On the popular Twitter hashtag #notalion, medieval historians and aficionados share the most un-leonine lions from the Middle Ages. One on the edge of an illuminated manuscript smiles gently, its flat face almost human; another from the eleventh century seems to smirk with pride at the glory of his mane that radiates like the sun.

    Why do these lions look, well, not like lions? Scholar Constantine Uhde wrote for The Workshop in 1872 that in early Christian and Romanesque sculpture, “the physiognomy of the lion gradually loses more and more of its animal aspect, and tends, though quaintly, to the human.” The obvious explanation is that there weren’t that many lions in medieval Europe to model for artists, and the accessible representations for copying had the same lack of realism.

    As art historian Charles D. Cuttler writes in Artibus et Historiae, however, there actually were a number of lions on the continent, imported from Africa and Asia: “There are many accounts of their presence and even their breeding, first at various courts and then in the cities; they were kept in Rome by the popes as early as 1100, and Villard de Honnecourt made a drawing of a lion ‘al vif’ [‘from life’] in the thirteenth century—where he saw the animal is unknown.”
    The city of Florence had lions in the thirteenth century; lions were at Ghent’s court in the fifteenth century; and a lion house was built at the court of the Counts of Holland sometime after 1344, so it’s not impossible that first-hand accounts of lions were available to artists.

    The inaccuracy of medieval lions may have been a stylistic preference, particularly in a bestiary, or compendium of beasts. “Because the artists chose to illustrate the animals rather than their accompanying moralizations, they had more freedom of choice in their imagery: the bestiaries provided them with more latitude for the expression of design and other aesthetic preferences,” writes art historian Debra Hassig in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. Hassig cites the example of the twelfth or thirteenth-century Ashmole Bestiary, where humorous images include a big lion cowering in terror at a rooster. The text alongside relates this supposed cowardly attribute of the lion; the image conveys it without language through the anthropomorphic facial expressions of the two creatures.

    Lions were also prevalent on medieval door knockers, where they were represented as stern guardians. They regularly appeared on the heraldry of European royalty, their predatory poses symbolizing authority and a noble independence. Researcher Anita Glass in Gesta considers a bronze lion with a mane of scroll-like curls, its body almost ornamental in its curves. “The unknown artist who cast it was not essentially interested in the physical appearance and proportions of a real animal, but in what the animal expressed,” Glass writes. “The large globular head, the heavy blocklike paws and the twisted body tell us that a lion is powerful and ferocious.”

    There was likely some hearsay involved in the imperfect medieval lions, yet the artists were often breaking with nature to express an idea. Rather than mistakes, these #notalion specimens can be viewed as artistic decisions, albeit ones which appear delightfully strange to our modern eyes.

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    I think the reason medieval artists were bad at drawing lions is that they were bad at drawing anything. Their paintings of people, boats, horses, etc. weren't any more realistic than their paintings of lions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skepticalbip View Post
    I think the reason medieval artists were bad at drawing lions is that they were bad at drawing anything. Their paintings of people, boats, horses, etc. weren't any more realistic than their paintings of lions.



    Try again :-)
    As far as I can see even the details are anatomically correct.

    (Les tres riches heures du duc de Berry)

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    That is an example of one of the better medieval artists but still there is no detail and perspective is piss poor. Showing the better of medieval artists to claim that medieval art was good is a bit of a cheat. Typical medieval art looks pretty much like the student art taped to the wall of grammar-school classrooms.

    Jesus:
    Last edited by skepticalbip; 02-11-2021 at 10:50 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cycad View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by skepticalbip View Post
    I think the reason medieval artists were bad at drawing lions is that they were bad at drawing anything. Their paintings of people, boats, horses, etc. weren't any more realistic than their paintings of lions.



    Try again :-)
    As far as I can see even the details are anatomically correct.

    (Les tres riches heures du duc de Berry)
    What exactly are the humans in that pic doing?

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Potoooooooo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Cycad View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by skepticalbip View Post
    I think the reason medieval artists were bad at drawing lions is that they were bad at drawing anything. Their paintings of people, boats, horses, etc. weren't any more realistic than their paintings of lions.



    Try again :-)
    As far as I can see even the details are anatomically correct.

    (Les tres riches heures du duc de Berry)
    What exactly are the humans in that pic doing?
    Warming their private parts in front of a roaring fire, after a day working in the snow has practically frozen them off entirely.

    Seems eminently sensible and reasonable to me. I would likely do the same, had I the misfortune to have to work in the snow in an era before thermal underwear.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Potoooooooo View Post

    What exactly are the humans in that pic doing?
    Warming their private parts in front of a roaring fire, after a day working in the snow has practically frozen them off entirely.

    Seems eminently sensible and reasonable to me. I would likely do the same, had I the misfortune to have to work in the snow in an era before thermal underwear.

    You mean in an era where underwear was yet to be invented. Which reminds me of Scotland where I believe man have still to invent it ?

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    Quote
    That is an example of one of the better medieval artists but still there is no detail and perspective is piss poor.
    Unquote


    I stand corrected.
    Indeed the perspective had yet to be "invented" so all mdieval art must be rubbish.

    And art without perspective is no art. A quote I believe from Escher or was it Picasso ?


    As for the lions : I believe the last ones had been exterminated in Spain and the Middle East so it must have been difficult for artists to draw one based only on tales of drunken sailors. :-)

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cycad View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Potoooooooo View Post

    What exactly are the humans in that pic doing?
    Warming their private parts in front of a roaring fire, after a day working in the snow has practically frozen them off entirely.

    Seems eminently sensible and reasonable to me. I would likely do the same, had I the misfortune to have to work in the snow in an era before thermal underwear.

    You mean in an era where underwear was yet to be invented. Which reminds me of Scotland where I believe man have still to invent it ?
    Maybe 'yet to be rediscovered'. The Romans had underwear a thousand years before the date of that picture.

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    Contributor skepticalbip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cycad View Post

    As for the lions : I believe the last ones had been exterminated in Spain and the Middle East so it must have been difficult for artists to draw one based only on tales of drunken sailors. :-)
    I suppose that artists at that time never had the opportunity to see a horse from the front. At least I have been informed that the white critter on the right standing over the fallen knight was his horse.


    It takes a lot of work and practice to be a good artist, maybe the reason typical medieval art resembles elementary-school student art taped to classroom walls is that they spent about the same amount of time honing the talent. Apparently medieval artists spent some time practicing painting a stylized horse in profile since many of them painted very similar stylizations. The painter of the piece above apparently never considered what a horse would look like from the front until he painted one... It is at least as bad as most of the depictions of loins.
    Last edited by skepticalbip; 02-12-2021 at 08:28 PM.

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