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Art and visual culture: medieval to modern
Art and visual culture: medieval to modern

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1 Medieval to Renaissance

We begin by considering the production and consumption of art from the Crusades through to the period of the Catholic Reformation. The focus is on art in medieval and Renaissance Christendom, but this does not imply that Europe was insular during this period. The period witnessed the slow erosion of the crusader states in the Holy Land, finally relinquished in 1291, and of the Greek Byzantine world until Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453. Famously, Columbus made his voyage of discovery of the New World in 1492. Medieval Christendom could not but be aware of its neighbours. Trade, diplomacy and conquest connected Christendom to the wider world, which in turn had an impact on art. The luxury oriental fabrics painstakingly represented in paintings by Simone Martini (c.1284–1344), and the feather pictures made in Mexico for European collectors, are only two examples.

The important point to be made is that the medieval and Renaissance period was not parochial and neither were its artists. Any notion of the humble medieval artist oblivious to anything beyond his own immediate environment must be dispelled. Artists and patrons were well aware of artistic developments in other countries. Artists travelled both within and between countries and on occasion even between continents. Such mobility was facilitated by the network of European courts, which were instrumental in the rapid spread of Italian Renaissance art. Europe-wide frameworks of philosophical and theological thought, reaching back to antiquity and governing religious art, applied – albeit with regional variations – throughout Europe, just as challenges in the form of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations rapidly became pan-European phenomena.