Øllet eller ideen?
The Beer or the Idea? On the Understanding of Crookedness in Danish Medieval Art
By Poul Grinder-Hansen
Should iconographical crookedness be explained as the result of beer and blunders or as intentional expressions of ideas? Blunders may be a possibility, but I think that you should always look first for the ideas – at least when you talk of art in a religious sphere. The essay considers some examples from Danish wall paintings and altarpieces. Fig. 1 shows how the painter has become aware of an iconographical mistake and has tried to correct it with an inscription. Figs. 2-4 are examples where a mixture of different iconographical themes was probably intended to enrich the pictorial statement. A golden retable (fig. 5) only representing 10 out of 12 Apostles – yet giving all names in the inscriptions – is probably the result of some practical problem, while the strange, yet original order of the reliefs in fig. 6 must have some, as yet unsolved iconological significance. Figs. 7-10 depict an altarpiece, which was imported from Northern Germany in separated parts and was put together -wrongly -, in Denmark, in spite of careful numberings and marks made by the German carpenters. It was ordered and erected as an altar for the Scottish community of Elsinore dedicated to the Scottish national saint Ninian, yet the order of the pictures is – and has always been – highly confusing. It is rather frustrating to us as researchers that an altarpiece could apparently be used without much care for the iconographical sense. The reason is, probably, that the Scots in Elsinore chose to stress other aspects of the iconography than the German producers had expected. It seems that they concentrated on the first and finest position of the triptych with its carved figures, using also the wing with a painting of St. Ninian giving alms, which the German workshop had really intended for the closed, third position of the triptych. The triptych may thus only have been used in its open position. Lastly the so-called primitive wall paintings of the late Middle Ages are discussed. These should not, as has sometimes been the case, be considered as casual, more or less popular and controversial, almost anti-clerical decorations. Their simple, yet decorative ornaments and symbols stress the lines of the newly erected vaults of the churches and should probably be understood as the final touch given by the masons to complete the work. Their paintings have been found in many churches covering all aspects of society from village churches to monasteries. They are not as a rule to be seen as drunken jokes but as serious pictorial statements. Which not goes to say that feasts and fun could not be a part of it all.
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