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

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Art and adornment

It is also the case that some objects, particularly those made by ancient Greek and Roman artists, were indeed treated as objects for aesthetic admiration during the fifteenth century. Among these were the highly prized antique cameos owned by the Medici family in Florence (Richardson et al., 2007, pp. 291–303). Earlier written evidence that works of art were recognised as offering visual delight quite apart from function and meaning is sparse but there is a little. In a treatise written sometime between 1227 and his death in 1254, Lucas, Bishop of Tuy in Spain, reiterated the medieval convention that the purpose of religious art in churches was both to convey doctrine and to inspire imitation. He also recognised a third category, however, that some art in churches was there simply for adornment:

there are in the church painted forms of animals, birds and serpents, and other things, which are for adornment and beauty only … for the house of God must shine with varied worship, so that its outward beauty in itself will lead men to it, and not inflict weariness on those who are present … the outward beauty of the house of God soothes the eyes.

(Lymberopoulou et al., 2012, pp. 30–1 and Gilbert, 1985, pp. 136–7)

The profusion and variety of ornament in some medieval church architecture or in illuminated manuscripts suggests his was not an isolated view, for all that it was seldom articulated (Schapiro, 1977). His statement is a valuable indication that even within the church, art might serve the purposes of simple enjoyment. It seems implausible that visual delight did not also form a key motive for lay patrons to commission art for their own private use.