Medieval Painting

Types of Painting

Subjects

Looking at Medieval Painting

From the early fifteenth century until the start of abstract painting at the end of the nineteenth century European painting operated under two conventions; that perspective was used to create a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional scene and that the frame of the work could be treated like a window frame through which to view the scene.

To understand and hopefully enjoy medieval painting we need to see past those two conventions and understand that a single work of art may:

a) show the same figure repeatedly, at different points in the passage of time. This can, confusingly, be in a single image, or in multiple images - like a cartoon strip.

b) contain images of several people who are in some way connected, again either in a single scene or in multiple scenes in the same work, when they could not have been physically located at the same time or place.

c) use the size of human figures to represent their importance in the image, not their physical size or apparent distance from us as we might expect.

All of these concepts are far easier for us than for a post-Renaissance / pre-20th century viewer as we have experienced abstract, non-representational, painting and are aware that a painted surface can represent something other than a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional space.