One of the things I mentioned last week was the interesting work insights I got while I was on my Franco-Italian holiday. Now, I tried to put myself as far away from work as possible during this trip - I brought two Dean Koontz books to re-read and basically forgot about everything else. This might be why I'm having a hard time jumping back into the research that I should be doing right now.
But, you know how they say that when you're not looking for something, that's when it happens, right? Well, the same thing kind of happened this trip - it wasn't a big insight, but I found two separate visual examples of the kinds of relationships I'm interested in tracking in the literature I examine in my book and in the unrelated article I'm (not really) working on right now.
For the article in particular, there was a painting we saw in the Uffuzi gallery in Florence that will make an excellent entree into what I discuss in some late medieval texts. Although the painting was done in 1534 and in Italy (as opposed to late 15th- and early 16th-century English poems), it's a Madonna and child scene that represents Christ in a particularly cool (and not chronologically specific) way. It was actually the Dutchman who brought it up; he said "Jesus already looks dead doesn't he?" And then I realized how I needed to open my argument in this article! The D was so cutely pleased when I said that I would footnote him "for bringing this particular painting to my attention."
The other thing wasn't so much an epiphany about my book as it was a confirmation of the fact that I'm writing about something that I think is very cool (so, that's at least one person who does!). But I think that one of the ways we can tell that we're into a project is if we are interesting in bringing those same or similar questions to a variety of texts, etc. So, this happened when we were at Pisa and walking around the leaning tower and the church there. I was walking around the outer walls of the church and saw all kinds of cool etchings there - like medieval and early modern graffiti. Then, as I was happily clicking away with my camera, one of our friends (who is also a medievalist and works on medieval castles in the Netherlands and Germany - shout out to WL!!) pointed to some of the stones further up the wall. Here are some pictures (you can click on them to make them bigger):
These are stones (or parts of them) that are taken from ancient Roman buildings or monuments (notice all the references to the Emperors Caesar and Hadrian) and that are now incorporated into the 11th-century Catholic church. You have to get up close to see them, but they were fabulous - just these random pieces of classical pagan monuments cut to fit and stuck in at weird angles - sometimes upside down, sometimes diagonal, etc. Not being an architectural or art historian, I have no idea if this is common or not (at least I've never seen it before), but it occured to me that this is kind of like an architectural palimpsest - maybe an inadequate erasure of a previous culture/religion. It's this fantastic and eternal (at least as long as the building stands) record of appropriation - or perhaps development? - of an older pagan culture by/into a Christian one.
As I was standing there, I was having such a good time close-reading those stones ('cause I'm a big geek) - how could I read their seamless incorporation into this church? What are the implications of that? It went to the heart of what my major project is on: the relationships between sacred and secular in the Middle Ages. I tend to fall more on the side of "co-existence" (perhaps not an easy one, but a co-existence nonetheless) than a wholesale shift from pagan to Christian; I seemed to be "reading" that on these walls as well. It got me excited about my project right at the moment I was trying to forget the damn thing and ease into a gelato-induced daze for 2 weeks! But it was a fun ball out of left field and I'll hope to find a way to incorporate these anecdotal observations into the manuscript.
By the way, one of the etchings on the side of the Pisa Duomo (that the Dutchman pointed out because I've trained him well) kind of defied my meager powers of interpretation. I'm including the picture below and you'll probably have to click on it to see it better. It looks almost like runic to me, but I don't know...the picture is right side up and it seemed to have been a later carving on the stone after it had already been built rather than an older stone fitted in upside down. But maybe it is upside down...
Any ideas, brilliant bloggies??