History as a Visual Art in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance

History as a Visual Art in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance

Karl F. Morrison
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 290
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvdgf
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    History as a Visual Art in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance
    Book Description:

    Karl Morrison discusses historical writing at a turning point in European culture: the so-called Renaissance of the twelfth century. Why do texts considered at that time to be masterpieces seem now to be fragmentary and full of contradictions? Morrison maintains that the answer comes from ideas about art. Viewing histories as artifacts made according to the same aesthetic principles as paintings and theater, he shows that twelfth-century authors and audiences found unity not in what the reason read in a text but in what the imagination read into it: they prized visual over verbal imagination and employed a circular, or nuclear, spectator-centered perspective cast aside in the Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

    Twelfth-century writers assimilated and transformed a tradition of the conceptual unity of all the arts and attributed that unity to the fact that art both conceals and discloses. Recovering that tradition, especially the methods and motives of concealment, provides extraordinary insights into twelfth-century ideas about the kingdom of God, the status of women, and the nature of time itself. It also identifies a strain in European thought that had striking affinities to methods of perception familiar in Oriental religions and that proved to be antithetic to later humanist traditions in the West.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6118-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  6. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  7. Part I: Digesting History

    • Chapter 1 INTERPRETERS AT THE FEAST, OR A DIALOGUE BETWEEN ANCIENTS AND MODERNS
      (pp. 3-19)

      Some friends have suggested that I begin these inquiries with a word about method. By what method can we apprehend a way of understanding that is not linguistic, and that is not equivalent with interpretation? The idea of an introduction on this subject is appealing. However, in some important ways, every text discussed or referred to in the following pages requires the development of a special method. When I work with texts, I read them to grasp the message of the letter and also to explore what is unsaid between the lines of written words. Sometimes this work requires attention...

    • Chapter 2 HISTORY AS AN ART OF THE IMAGINATION
      (pp. 20-47)

      Every study has its fascination. The fascination of history is power. In one aspect, power is wielded over the outer world of human destinies, over the conditions and possibilities of life itself. Histories of politics and war are among the branches of inquiry devoted to this aspect. In another, power is represented in the inner world, where mind and heart imagine what they have sought in the physical world and what it has disclosed to them. Investigation into the inner world has unfolded into histories of religions, of ideas, and (not least) moralities, apart from many other forms.

      Writing in...

    • Chapter 3 COGNITION AND CULT
      (pp. 48-91)

      Thus far, we have asserted that digesting history employed ways of thinking common to the arts of imagination. We have identified some characteristics of those patterns of thought in the mutual reflection of verbal and visual images, an interplay that enabled readers to construct unity in the gaps between the fragments that made up the text. In this way, we have begun to recover some invisible “transitions” like those which John Scotus Eriugena considered as providing a hidden framing structure in some parables (see Preface, n. 2). We are now in a position to examine, more precisely, the acts of...

    • Chapter 4 FROM ONE RENAISSANCE TO ANOTHER
      (pp. 92-136)

      The premise that historical writing was an instrument of cognition depended on abstract ideas about cognition. Those ideas concerned the process of coming to know, rather than particular things that were known. The difference in literary form between historical texts of the twelfth century and those of the fifteenth and later indicates a profound change, not only in style, but also, at a far deeper level, in the ways in which the conditions, possibilities, and limits of cognition were conceived. I have two tasks in this chapter. The first is to trace some lines of continuity in modes of representation...

  8. Part II: Reading between the Lines

    • Chapter 5 THE KINGDOM OF GOD: A SILENCE OF INTUITION
      (pp. 139-153)

      Thus far, we have identified a few guidelines that governed historical writing as an art of the imagination. Like any compositions, the works with which we are concerned depended on exclusion as well as inclusion, but even what was included has appeared shapeless to modern scholars. There is little regard for narrative unity, no organic wholeness. At some times, one encounters gaps in a narrative; at others, a concatenation of narratives. To lay hands on the thinking behind the montage effect of these texts, we must turn from the words to the silences between the words, understanding, to be sure,...

    • Chapter 6 THE HERMENEUTIC ROLE OF WOMEN: A SILENCE OF COMPREHENSION
      (pp. 154-195)

      Historical texts of the eleventh and twelfth centuries are, on the whole, accumulations of anecdotes. They lack the fundamental elements of narrative wholeness—a beginning, middle, and end—and they flagrantly defy the canons of proportion and clarity. And yet I have argued in this study concerning the Kingdom of God, their segmented and directionless mode of discourse was possible because it was, for the authors and the intended readers, informed by a general esthetic, namely, an esthetic of cult, which presupposed much that was unsaid in the said, including an acceptance of violence (beginning with sacrifice) as a medium...

    • Chapter 7 TEXT AND TIME AT THE COURT OF EUGENIUS III: A SILENCE OF MULTIPLICATION
      (pp. 196-244)

      Not all silences in the text were due to the author’s intent. Some were imposed by the deficiencies of the medium of language. The Kingdom of God and women were subjects to be included or excluded by choice. Time represents quite another category of omissions that existed by necessity. Yet, that necessity did not exist because, by thinking of events under the aspect of turning wheels—the Wheel of Fortune or Ezekiel’s concentric wheels of prophecy and fulfillment, advancing as they spun—authors negated time. Instead, the necessity existed because those metaphors, and similar ones, expressed assumptions about time and...

  9. Chapter 8 CONCLUSIONS: A WORD ON “MEDIEVAL HUMANISM”
    (pp. 245-250)

    At the outset, I invoked the authority of John Scotus Eriugena. In some Scriptural parables, he found, hidden beneath the surface of the text, a structure of transitions that enabled astute interpreters to move from one figure to another, thus establishing multiple meanings. These transitions constituted an invisible framing structure, but one that was by no means evident to all (see Preface, n. 2). I have suggested that twelfth-century historical writers likewise assumed invisibletransitusin their own works, as well as in Scripture, and that they indicated as much by the analogies that they drew between their works and...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 251-262)