Art I: Medieval 500–1400, with Rick Steves

Art I: Medieval 500–1400, with Rick Steves


So this is three one-hour
classes, basically. This first
class is going from — it’s gonna go from
the Medieval Period from 500, that’s the
fall of Rome, until 1400. There’s another
class that is Renaissance and Baroque,
going from 1400 to 1800, and then the
final class takes us from the Age of Revolution
right up to our crazy time. I do want to stress that there are going to be no tests,
okay, this is fun. I’m gonna comp — I’m gonna compromise
a little bit on completeness and accuracy, just to
make it really simple so you can get your
brains around it. We’re not scholars here, we’re
Euro-centric, and we’re talking about what really matters to your sightseeing. And
we’re gonna take this sweep and it’s gonna be very practical. The textbook
for today’s talk is “Europe 101.” This is the book we’ve
written after 25 years of guiding
groups around Europe, understanding what
you need to know and just as importantly,
what you don’t need to know to really understand
and enjoy your sightseeing. So let’s head on out,
and the first thing we’re going to talk
about is Europe in the year 500. Now in the year
500, Rome has fallen, right. Rome goes for 1,000 years, from 500 BC
to 500 AD, and then the Middle Ages go from about 500 for another 1,000 years
from 500 AD to 1400 AD. The first half of that period, roughly 500 to 1000, is
what is popularly called the Dark Ages. Of course it’s not in — not that dark, but
compared to everything else it’s pretty dark, so we’ll call
it the Dark Ages, 500 to 1000. Then things kick into gear
in 1000, and we get some very exciting culture and art in the High Middle Ages.
And that takes us from 1000 to 1400 when the Renaissance starts, and that in a lot
of ways is the start of our modern world. Now when Rome fell it was replaced by
the Roman Catholic Church in a lot of ways. I mean I love
this photograph here — this — this painting
you’ll find it in the Vatican, and it shows what is the remains
of a broken classical columns laying on the floor, knocked over and replaced
by a crucifix. And in a lot of ways, that’s what happened. Rome fell, and
the Roman Catholic Church carried on. The Pope was called the
Pontifex Maximus and the Roman Emperor was called
the Pontifex Maximus. You had the Roman — all the Roman senators,
and then you had all the Roman Catholic bishops and Archbishops. So there’s a
lot of that echo of Rome carrying on. When we think about how important Rome
was 2,000 years ago, we got to remember Rome didn’t mean the city of Rome,
Rome meant the entire civilized world. Everything from a Euro-centric point of
view, and that’s what we are today, everything was either Roman
or it was barbarian. Here we see the Roman Empire at the
height of the time in the Pax Romana, the first 200 years after Jesus. And we can
see Rome is right in the middle of it, but Rome spread all through that area,
and when Rome — during that period, everybody who spoke Latin
or Greek was civilized, everybody beyond that was a
barbarian, bar bar, bar, just like animals. Now when
Rome came — when Rome fell, you have the Christian Church coming in
and taking the remnants of Rome, and conquering it visually,
conquering it physically. You got Trajan’s column here in Rome,
what’s on top? Is it a statue of Emperor Trajan or is it a
statue of St. Peter? St. Peter. It used to be Trajan, they took him
off and they put Peter up there. So time and time again
we see this Roman thing. Now when you think
about the Dark Ages, my frustration in
teaching the Dark Ages when I was first doing
this was, I wanted to do it all chronologically.
It doesn’t work chronologically, it
all fars apart — falls apart, that’s why it’s dark. So we think
of that whole body of time, from 500 to 1,000, as just a bunch of splotches
that are all over the place. I’m talking from a practical travel
point of view, what do we need to know? Look at the map. You’ve got — Rome is just
an insignificant little city at this point — you’ve got the
eastern half of the Roman Empire living on — in — from
present day Istanbul, you’ve got Islam cutting across
Africa and moving into Spain, you’ve got all sorts of movements of
tribes, Magyars, and Slavs, and remember, this is when bully tribes would move
around, and weak tribes would get shoved around, and there wasn’t fixed borders.
You had Celtic people, I like to think nice Celtic people all over
Britain, and then the Anglos came, and they were tougher, and they pushed
the Celtic people that were there first into the less-desirable fringes, and
they settled down in the harder to farm Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and the
Anglos took the better land, Angloland or England, you see. You have the Vikings
way up in the North. Miserable farm country up there, they’re good at boating.
They get in their boats and they rape, pillage, and plunder
instead of farming. You’ve got the Moors
pushing into Spain. You’ve got the only guy important to
remember, who is an emperor in the — a leader in the Middle Ages, Charlemagne,
ruling from France and a little bit of Germany there in the year 800. You’ve got
the city of Venice emerging as a big power, and you’ve got Aix-la-Chapelle,
which would be the capital, the early capital of Europe where
Charlemagne held his court. So these are some of the ideas. When we
think about that map in the Dark Ages, we gotta remember Rome was falling, and
the Roman Emperor said, “I’m outta here,” and he moved over to Constantinople, It
was called by Byzantium or something way back then, and he said, “I’m gonna
name this Constantinople, the city of Constantine.” So Emperor Constantine, the
first Christian Emperor by the way, set up shop in present-day Istanbul. Rome
continued to fall, and eastern Rome, which became the Byzantine Empire,
lived on for a thousand years. Christian and the echo of Rome, in a way,
the Roman Empire surviving in the east. You can see that in present-day
Constantinople. When you think about the art of the Byzantine Empire, Ravenna was the Western sort of capital
of the Byzantine Empire, and there you’ll find sumptuous art, giving us a sense
of how rich and exquisite life was in Byzantium. Remember for 400 years when
Christians were just running in the mud in Europe, they looked at Constantinople as
the leading city of Christendom, all right, it’s Istanbul today. And we can see
that Byzantine art when we’re in Italy, in Ravenna. When we look
at this art, this is the end of the Ancient Era and
the beginning of the Middle Ages, this is
around the year 500. You can tell that because Jesus is
portrayed beardless in the Ancient World, and he’s portrayed bearded in the
Medieval World. And this is in the same church, artists working in the same
generation, on the cusp between Ancient and Medieval. Another little trick, when
you look at a mosaic or painting and you see a bunch of religious
people with halos, the guy with a cross in his
halo, it’s always Jesus. Only Jesus gets a cross in his halo, so
there you’ve got one of the people that you’re looking at in all those mosaics
and stained glass, figure it out. Okay so we have these
beautiful mosaics in exquisite time, and
when we think about the Byzantine civilization, here we
see that standard for the next 1,000 years, more than 1,000 years, It’s the church and the Emperor
ganging up on the people, okay. Here we got Justinian.
He’s the Emperor, he’s wearing a crown, and he’s wearing a
halo. He is both holy and secular. And you’ve got the leading
church powers, and you got the leading secular
powers right here. This is the original 1%, okay.
You’ve heard about that, you know, the 99 — the 99’s gonna raise their
head later, but now for a long time the vote is always
two against one. The church and the government
against the people, all right. And that’s kind of the
status quo until we get to the Age of Revolution, we’ll talk about that. Now
when it comes to the church, the Christian Church, in this day when
there’s a lot of barb — you know, pre-Christian and
pagan religions going on, it had to be pretty aggressive. And Jesus
is often portrayed as a soldier. In fact, here in this mosaic you see Jesus dressed
up like a Roman soldier, holding the cross as if it’s a sword, standing on
symbols of evil, and on the book it says, “I am the way, the light,
the truth, and the life,” you see. This is
really powerful art, and it’s very exciting
to see how the church establishes itself
in that crazy world when Rome fell, and there
was just chaos, a vacuum, no real successful or established
government. Now when we’ve got the Dark Ages, Europe is deep into the
Middle Ages now, the power of Rome’s gone, in the 7th century in present-day Saudi
Arabia, Muhammad comes along. He establishes the Muslim faith, and that
faith travels like wildfire across Africa. You can think how fast some of
the Muslim extremists can travel these days when they’re on the
warpath, right? Well this happened in Europe,
and within 100 years Islam had spread from Mecca all the way
across Africa, into Spain, through Spain, and well into France.
For 700 years, the Europeans reunited in the effort to
push those Muslims back out of Europe and back into Africa where they came from.
That’s called the Reconquista. 711, the Muslims came across
the strait of Gibraltar, 1492, they were finally
pushed the other way. One good way to get everybody on the
same team is have a common enemy, right? You can see it in present-day politics,
and back then everybody was on board against the threat both from the east
and from the south coming in, Islam threatening Christian Europe. This is the famous palace of the last
Moorish stronghold in Granada. When you ask a European what
happened in 1492, they don’t think about Columbus, that was
the year they finally pushed the Moors back into Africa, away
from this palace, the Alhambra. Now, the Moors have a
huge impact on European culture. Very sophisticated, beautiful culture
in so many ways, very smart, a lot of the great thinking of classical
Greece was lost to Europe, absorbed into Islam, and given back to Europe
through the Moors in Spain. Now of course when you have Moorish art,
it cannot have pictures of people or statues. You have calligraphy, you have
Quranic verses, you’ve got propaganda phrases, you’ve got
phrases of praise, praise about the
prophet and so on, and when you go to a church
you’ll see a statue of st. Peter or a statue of Jesus or Mary.
You go to a mosque, you can’t see a statue. What you see is
a banner with calligraphy writing in a very beautiful way that
would say Mohammed or whoever, whatever prophet
they’re celebrating. So it’s equivalent
of a church, but they can’t have images so you get the
calligraphy, and you see that in those mosques. Now for 700 years,
Christians were pushing the Muslims back out, and
it was quite a struggle. A hero of this Reconquista
was a guy named Santiago Matamoros, St. James the Moor killer.
And these days you go to Spain, you sit in a church, this church is built on the
ruins of a destroyed mosque, which is built upon the ruins of a destroyed church,
which is built upon the ruins of a Roman temple, which was probably built on the
ruins of something wholly there before the Romans came, you see.
And you’ve got the current church there
now, and in a niche you see a guy on a horse rearing back
with a sword up above, and the freshly cut off heads of a bunch of
Muslims at the feet of the horse. So cutting off heads in a crusade is
nothing new, and you’ll be surrounded by cut off Muslim heads as you
worship in churches in Spain. This is fascinating stuff when you’re
interested in history and what’s going on today. Across Spain you’ve got that
Reconquista. An entire region of Spain is called Castile, and you’ll find a lot
of castles there that date back to that struggle. In fact there’s a lot of towns
called “de la Frontera,” Jerez de la Frontera, Vejer de la Frontera,
Arcos de la Frontera, and so on. Towns that were established
on the frontier, the frontier pushed
further down, they’re embedded in Christian Spain, and they still
got the name de la Frontera, “on the frontier,” a souvenir from pushing the
Moors back out. Now when Christian Europe finally retook Spain, there was a lot of Moorish civilization,
and artisans, and crafts, and aesthetics that stayed. And they were just
incorporated into Christian and Jewish society, and many of the churches and
synagogues that were built after that actually were built by
Moorish craftspeople, and you’ll see that Muslim style
carrying on after the Reconquista.
When Rome fell, you had all this chaos. And there’s
all these barbarians tromping on meek, nice people’s farmland, and
burning their houses and so on. On the mainland, near present-day Venice,
farmers got sick and tired of getting run over by the barbarians and they said,
“this is gonna be miserable but let’s move out in the lagoon and hope the
barbarians don’t like water.” And they deforested that part of
Italy, pounding in all the trees to make a foundation so that they could
build their little houses, and they became — the farmers became fishermen. And
eventually they became great traders, they had a real knack for that, and by about the year 800 or
900, Venice was a huge sprawling trading empire. Eventually it went as far
as the Holy Land, and it was the economic power in Europe in the year 1000. And
when you go to Venice today you’ll get a sense of that. You’ll see St.
Mark’s Basilica. Now St. — now Venice was
an important place historic — politically, a hor — important
place economically, but no importance religiously because it was an upstart
town, kind of refug — refugee town, nothing important there happened in the
Bible so they don’t have any relics. Bad news if you’re a self
respecting town, you need relics. I don’t know if they
had newsletters, or what, but it was- -they became aware that the bones of
St. Mark were available down in Egypt. So they sent a crew down to Egypt, and
they “rescued” the bones of St. Mark, they brought him back to the Basilica.
And when you enter the Basilica today you see a mosaic over the door, and
this goes back about a thousand years, and if you look closely at that mosaic,
in the middle right under Jesus blessing the whole thing, is the coffin of St.
Mark. And the big shots of the town are literally carrying him into the church.
They planted him under the altar and that put Venice on the map from a
pilgrimage point of view, and now Venice is a decent powerful
town because it’s got relics, it’s got political and economic power,
and you’ve got all sorts of glory plastered all over that
church. Small windows, gold leaf mosaics letting the light that
can squeeze in bounce around a lot, and it is filled with riches. When you go to Venice, you’ll remember
it was a military superpower in its day, an economic powerhouse in the day, to
the point that it could scare away potential adversaries just by inviting
them over. Taking them to the Arsenal and showing them their very early form of
mass production. With an assembly line kind of production, they could crank out a warship
every couple of days. A potential adversary came to Venice,
they wined and dined ’em, let ’em see the production of a warship, and then
they rigged it not fitted it, and it’s just ready to go to defend the city,
and that guy went home and said, “don’t mess with Dennis,”
let’s find somebody else. Venice was
incredibly powerful. You can see the gate of the Arsenal
today when you go, and when you travel around Venice you can see the result of
all those riches. Time and time again, you’ll notice it takes money to have
things to look at a thousand years later. The places that had trade, the places
that had money, have the most great buildings to see. Venice had the most
money, they’ve got the most fantastic buildings, and you’ll see this fanciful
Venetian Gothic all over the place. I mentioned the vikings up in Norway. Now
the Vikings lived in very rough terrain, they were really good at shipping, and
they had a huge impact on Europe. They sailed down rivers into Russia, in fact
the word “Russia” is a Viking word. They sailed all the way to Sicily, they
established a city and a society in England, Jorvik was a Viking town
originally 1,000 ago, and they settled in Normandy. And for generations
they terrorized Europe around Normandy, today in France, and so on. As a matter of
fact, for generations the standard close of a prayer in Europe was not “Amen,” but it was “and
deliver us from the Vikings, Amen.” Those Norsemen, rape, pillage, and
plunder, that’s what they were good at. And they established
themselves in Normandy, that’s from the word Northman, and they
were assimilated eventually, and then in 1066 it was the Normans that invaded
England, right, for the Norman Conquest. The Vikings had great ships, and you can
see those ships up in Norway and in Denmark. And when
you travel around anywhere north of the
Barbarian-Roman line, I want you to remember that barbarians
are kind of put down by history because they couldn’t write their history, but
they really had some exquisite art. And when you go into Barbarian Europe and
you look at old stuff, you gotta give an opportunity for the
barbarians to shine, okay. The beautiful aesthetic in the wood
carving that survives from the Viking Age in Norway. When the Vikings were
finally Christianized, that’s considered the beginning of the Middle Ages, coming
out of the Ancient world into the Middle Ages, and then they put their woodworking
techniques to building churches. You can see a little bit of their ship building
technique in their churches, this is a stave church. Now the big ruler of the Dark Ages is Charlamagne.
Charlamagne is the only guy you gotta remember in the Dark Ages from a
who’s-the-king point of view. Charles the Great, Carolus
Magnus, Charlemagne. Charles the Great
ruled the Franks. He was crowned in the year 800. The Pope
came up from Rome and crowned him in Paris, and this was the time when the Pope
was needed to legitimize the Emperor and the Emperor was needed to legitimize the
Pope, so they kind of work together. Charlemagne was an effective ruler
because he stayed on the road. Remember this whole
term, “a room fit for a king.” Back then if
you just sat in Paris you could say you you ruled everything,
but in effect you didn’t. You had to be out there moving and
asserting your power, that’s what Charlemagne did. Remember in
the darkest depths of the Dark Ages, the people in Europe knew they were in a
middle time, they even referred to themselves then as some kind of medieval
society, the Middle Ages. They knew there was something greater before them
because they’re sitting on the ruins of Rome, and they knew they
were in the doldrums now, but every time
they had a little excitement going on they would shiver
and drool with enthusiasm and think, “maybe this is the Renaissance,” and
then it would be a false start, okay. They had a little false start during the
Carolingian time. When you hear the word “Carolingian,” that’s from
the reign of Charlemagne, okay. The real Renaissance was not going
to happen though for 600 more years until 1400. To give you an idea of the
importance of monks during this period, every effective ruler need to have
scribes. The educated elites in Charlemagne’s administration were
imported from Ireland, these were Irish monks. During the darkest depths of the
Dark Ages literacy was almost snuffed out, and conscientious objectors to all
that darkness and chaos, thoughtful bookwormy-type people checked into
monasteries. And they lived monastic lives, intellectual lives, and what they
did to earn their keep was transcribe books, they would
write out the books. This is a time when educated
people spoke Latin across Europe, not many people were reading and
writing, and most of those who were were associated with the Church. The island of
Ireland is called the Isle of Saints and Scholars, and when Europe
was pretty much illiterate, Ireland is remarkably sophisticated.
And when you go there today
you’ll see a lot of very interesting little monastic fortress
communities that, 1,000 years ago, were bright spots in the Dark Ages.
Remember, probably the most important kind of painting in the Dark Ages is
what we call illuminated manuscripts. There’s no way to print a book except to
handwrite it. Not many people were smart enough to handwrite, these were monks
in the monastery that were scribes like this, and it was boring
work, all day long this writing stuff out. When
they got to a new chapter, “oh man I want to do something a little
more creative, let’s make a picture,” so they do a funny picture, or a fun picture
on the chapter head, and then get back into the hard business of transcribing
the rest of that book, you see. The illuminated manuscripts,
those paintings, those illuminated
cover pages, are the beautiful art of this period, and you’ll
see a lot of that in your travels. Now when Rome fell, there was a power
vacuum. You can have a problem with government, you can complain about
government, but try having no government at all. If you have no
government at all, you would wish for the
government we have today, believe it or not. When Rome fell,
there was this power vacuum. What do you do? You got to have some
semblance of order, so they had feudalism. Now Europe is fragmented remember, it
is just people “run for the hills,” used to be down in the valleys, now
there’s no order so people run for the hills, and we start these hill towns. All
over southern Europe you find hill towns. Remember in the Middle Ages the only
way to transport things safely and economically was on rivers, so towns would grow up on rivers. Rivers
were good because they would turn your wheels and they would give you power, and
of course you can get water from the rivers, so it made sense
to build on a river. Paris was born on a river, like so many
other great cities, originally in the island in the middle of the
river, the Ile de la Cite. Then it grows bigger, and it has to grow
outside of the natural fortification, or the moat caused by the
river going around the island, and they have to
build walls to protect it. Today, of course, the city grows way
beyond those walls, and what they do is they tear down those walls, and you have
circular boulevard to help alleviate traffic congestion. All over Europe
when you look at maps of great cities, you can see the medieval
wall embedded in the city, usually coming out from the river.
This is Vienna. You got the river,
you’ve got this cathedral, which would be the center
point of that if it was what it would spin around, and then you’ve got the
Ringstrasse. And the Ringstrasse was the former wall. Of course when the city
grows beyond that, it’s congested, you need to tear down that wall, and a
beautiful thing about tearing down a wall is, you would always when you built
a wall, have a huge no man’s land beyond the wall as far as you
could shoot an arrow. If they let people build within that no
man’s land, it was built on the condition that, “if we are under attack, we going to tear down your house,” because
we don’t want any of the enemy getting close to the wall
without us seeing it. So you have the big no man’s land plus
the wall, oftentimes with a series of moats. You tear down the wall, you get the no man’s land, and suddenly
got all that real estate in the center of an important city that you can
build on. When you look at Vienna you’ve got the Ring road, and it is lined
with the greatest buildings in Vienna today. All the governmental buildings, the
great museums, and so on, are built on land that was just
free for the taking when they took down their wall, and that’s
the wonderful string of buildings along the Ringstrasse in Vienna. Here we take a look at Florence. Now when
you go to a city like Florence, you feel like, “oh this is exhausting
it goes forever.” Scissors it out in your mind, just around
that circular road defined by the old medieval wall, and almost all of your
sightseeing is almost always within that, what was the old medieval wall.
Here we see Florence on the river with a fortified bridge coming in
and a wall going around it. Today the wall’s long gone, you’ve got
a circular boulevard, and the gates, some of them survived, and they ornament
the traffic circles that take the road into town. During the wall, you
had the road coming to the gate, the wall’s gone, you still have the road
coming to the gate, but the gate is no longer needed, so they make a traffic
circle and they leave it there as a memorial or a souvenir of their medieval
past. In the Middle Ages it was hard to be on the waterfront because
there was marauding pirates. All of the famous resorts in the Costa Del Sol in
Spain, they have sister towns five miles inland up in the hills. That’s where the town
was, and then when things got stable enough, they moved down to the waterfront. Once they’re on the waterfront they have
castles, like here in the Cinque Terre, every town has a castle. And this
castle would be where they would holler warnings when they saw
the Pirates coming, and the people could run for cover.
You’ll find little, little towns in many places of Europe where the
church is hidden behind a hill. You don’t want a big spire sticking up
in the area just to beckon to all the pirates that you’ve got a lot of
money to build a fancy church, you have a squat spire hidden, tucked
away in a valley so pirates and marauders from the water cannot see you.
If you’re choosing a great city for a great capital like, let’s say Spain, the
most powerful guy in Europe, the holy roman emperor in Spain needed a
fortified city for his capital. Toledo was great. It’s
the spiritual, and artistic, and historical
capital of Spain today. Madrid is the modern capital because
it’s bigger, but until the city outgrew Toledo, Toledo was the political capital
also. And Toledo is snuggled within a hairpin turn of the river. And the
cool thing about a hairpin turn of a river is, you just make a border — a wall
across the bottom of it, and you’ve got a perfectly fortified town. You’ll see that
textbook example in Toledo. I mentioned when Rome fell Europe was fragmented, a
good example is Germany. Today Germany is the size of Montana. In the Middle Ages
it was 200 independent little two-bit fiefdoms and dukedoms, each with its own little capital city,
its own fortifications its own customs, and duties, and all
that kind of stuff. Here’s an example.
This is the town of Rothenburg. Most of us
have been to Rothenburg, but until just recently, I never
envisioned Rothenburg as the capital of a little country. You can see Rothenburg
in the center, and then you can see the terrain of Rothenburg. Of course Rothenburg
would be really walled, but the whole terrain would have its
fortification around that, and in times
of serious attack, everybody could come into the walls of
Rothenburg. The water mills would be vacated, and they would have to use the
horse mills inside the walls of the town to do their milling.
And here you have a good example of a feudal
state in Germany. I mentioned, if you don’t like your
government try no government at all. When feudalism hit Europe with the power
vacuum caused by the fall of Rome, there is a desperate need for some
semblance of order. What do you do you? Have an organization — contractual
organization between landowners. They willingly work together, giving
something for something. Now if you’re the biggest
landowner, let’s say you own all of the country, you can’t really
control of the country unless you divvy up sections of it to
lesser landowners. So you give out major portions to the
biggest landowners. Now they can’t control all that land either until they
divvy it up to other people, and then they divvy it up until it gets down to
the smallest landlord. And the smallest landlord is where the
landed elites connect with the landless peasants.
And all the peasants, 90% of society, has to work just
for subsistence, by producing land for that smallest landlord. That’s what we call manorialism, the
manor house. And then it goes to bigger landowners, bigger landowners,
and bigger landowners. Now feudalism is this relationship between
all these wealthy elites, and you’ve got a two way street. A lord gives a vassal
land in return for loyalty, okay. The currency is, a
lord gives a vassal a fief in return for fealty. One man’s vassal is another
man’s lord, all of them giving control of
the land for loyalty. It’s a fascinating thing to think about,
and when you travel in Europe you realize there are three
parts of the feudal pie. There’s this relationship between
landowners and all the rich people. Their children are either the landowners or the
knights, because if you’re a second or third son you don’t get the land because
it all goes to the oldest son, you get a nice set of armor, and
you get to be a bully running around chopping
things down, okay. And there’s a lot of people, pent-up
energy and people with their armor, and so on, and knights
in the prime of life. They’re lucky people but
there’s nothing going on, they’re anxious, they
want some action, okay, that’ll stir things up. You’ve also
got the church and the intellectual elite controlled by the church. And
then you’ve got the lion’s share of the people, 90%, 95% whatever. All through the Middle Ages it is the
landed elites, and the intellectual religious elites, and the peasantry. And
you’ve got some kind of a nice sort of democracy here, you’ve got the three
estates. Throughout the Middle Ages in France they would sit together when they
needed to raise money for the king. He had to call the three estates. But it was always vote by
house, not by show of hands, and it was always
two against one, you see. There could have been 200
people in the Estates-General from the peasantry ’cause that
was 90% of the people, and 100 people, and
100 people, and they would still
be vote by house. Two against one. So it
was always stuck. My theory about history is
you got a finite pie. You can’t really make it bigger, and how
you slice it up is determining who’s got what in society. And with everybody is
stuck with or satisfied with their slice, there’s not much history. If there’s somebody new added to the
mix and you gotta redivide the pie, then there’s history. For centuries there
wasn’t much history in Europe, because everybody is satisfied with or
stuck with their slice of the pie, then you got the advent of cities. When
cities come along, you got elites in the cities, bankers, lawyers, merchants, people
with money and education, that don’t fit into the landed nobility
or the clergy, where do you stick ’em? These
guys say, “welcome to the pie, you can sit
with the peasants.” Now they’re in the peasantry. The
peasantry now has a little bit of muscle because these guys are lawyers, and rich,
and bankers, and they can demand a little more respect when the king calls the
assembly together, and we’re moving ahead in history but that was leading up
to the French Revolution, the King of France needed to call the assembly
together to raise money to fund the American revolutionaries against England.
Philosophically that was the enemy, but you have an enemy just across the way so
you’re going to give money to that group, the American revolutionaries,
to fight your enemy, like we see happening in modern history
too. The king called the Assemblies together and the Third
Estate said, “wait a minute, we’re not just going to
give you your money, I know we normally
just rubber-stamp it but we’re going to update this now, and
we want a little more respect out of the peasant — out of the
Third[First] Estate.” And they said, “we should
vote by show of hands instead of by house,
instead of two to one it would be two 200 to
200, and maybe we can get some action here.” And
the king said, “no way,” things got radical,
and that started the French Revolution in a
very simple nutshell. But you can kind of see that feudal pie
and the difficulty in re-slicing it. It’s a fascinating thing
when you get too many — too a few people having too
much power, wow, okay. In the year 1,000, things start to
kick into gear in Europe, okay. Dark Ages are pretty dark, not much
progress, not much travel, not much growth, not much innovation, and then in the
year 1,000 you got things startin’ to jiggle. Europe is starting to show
itself now. People are traveling, people are trading,
population is growing, there’s an inventiveness,
people are harnessing wind power and they’re
harnessing water power, they’re building to last, they’re
building thinking it will be here in 100 years, you’ve got this sort of a
spirit, this sort of European spirit, this inventiveness, and it is stoked
in a lot of ways by the Crusades. There was this pent-up
energy, all these noblemen with all
sorts of weapons, and horses, and energy, and
there’s no fightin’ goin’ on, “what am I
gonna do,” you can only do so many medieval
jousts, you know. And they had a chance
to go to the Holy Land and wreak havoc.
So they have the Crusades, an inglorious
chapter in the story of Europe, but
everybody in Europe had something excited
about to get excited about the Crusades. This is when you got
bands of righteous Christians going to
the holy land to free the holy Christian
sites from the Muslims, right. Now
the Pope wanted to push this ’cause
the Pope would get prestige for doing this.
Land owners wanted to do it because
they could get new fiefs, more land holdings.
Nobles want to do it because
they had a horse and armor, and they’re in
the prime of life, and there’s no wars
going on, and now they get a little bit
of rape, pillage, and plunder, that would
be exciting. And Christians even got
on board, because they thought they
would win points by freeing the holy land
from the Muslims. Everybody was excited
about the Crusades, Europe got all excited about it. Horrible thing to
see, and read about, and sightsee. One
thing good that came out of the Crusades
was, when the forces went over to the
Middle East they found all sorts of stone
working techniques and they brought that
home with them, and Europe was able to
build bigger things with the stone working
techniques they picked up in the
Middle East from the Crusades. When Europe
was struggling to really get some kind of order, it’s
interesting the importance of the monasteries, the
monastic sort of organizations around Europe.
St. Benedict was — founded the
Benedictine Order. And there was the Dominican
order, and the Franciscan Order, and when you read
about these monastic orders, they are literally
thousands of churches all over Europe, and
they were remarkably cohesive and and well organized.
And each monastic community had its own little
engine, its own innovation, its own economy, and
its own literacy. This is a modern portrayal
of St. Benedict with the slogan,
“Ora et labora.” “Work” — no, “prayer
and work,” all right, prayer and work. They
just worked all the time and prayed all
the time, and it’s a very important part of
the story of Europe. Remember in the Dark
Ages, the church became a very powerful
organization, the monasteries became
a very powerful organization. When people died they willed their land
to the church. The church was the biggest
landowner in Europe by far. The only people
who could thumb their noses at a secular
leader’s laws were church officials. 10% of all the wealth was going
down to Rome, almost required, in the form of tithes. This made the church
quite powerful. In the Middle Ages the kind of travel that was most common was pilgrimages. People would go on pilgrimages, and they
would walk, and walk, and walk, and every
time I approach a great medieval church
I love to see it in the distance, and I
think of myself as a kind — I try to get the
energy and excitement of a of a pilgrim
approaching on foot. Here we have the
Chartres Cathedral. And you can imagine what
an incredible Oz-like spire that must have been for
a faithful Christian 800 years ago, walking, and walking,
and walking, to see a shroud that shows the
image of Jesus, or a shroud that shows
the image of Mary, or a piece of that the
cross, or a piece of the crown of thorns,
and this was what sort of motivated all that
pilgrimage action. Remember when
Christianity became the religion of Europe,
they didn’t just inherit the Roman temples. The problem with that
is, a Roman temple is designed for people
to be outside, the public never went into
the Roman temple. Christian churches
by their very nature are gathering
together the body of Christ on earth, the
congregation sits together to worship together. You need a building
that’ll house a lot of people. Pagan temples
wouldn’t do it. What would do it is
the pre-Christian Roman Basilica. A
basilica was a big hall of justice, a nice
rectangular building with two rows of
columns, with an area in the middle where
everybody could gather. So churches adopted
the basilica plan. When you hear the
word “basilica,” that is an architectural
design that predates churches and Christianity,
adapted by the church in the Middle Ages.
Now if you’re trying to understand your medieval church
architecture, there’s only a few
words you gotta know, and it’ll start to make sense.
And people who write these guides to churches and stuff,
they just assume you know what a transept
is, or a west portal, or an apse, or an
ambulatory, and you just gotta get a hang out
hang on these few words. First of all, the
church is facing east. The altar is always in the
east facing Jerusalem, that means the portal, the entry, is
always the west. You have the west portal, it’s the portal, there’s only one portal,
it’s the west portal. Now if you’re a bird flying over that basilica,
it just looks like a box. You need to sprout transepts and
it starts to look like a cross, much better. So you take your boxy,
rectangular basilica, and you sprout transepts. Because the
church always faces east, you can only have a north and a south
transept, so don’t worry about west and east transept, you’ve got a north
transept and a south transept. These are designed to accommodate pilgrims. On a
certain feast day or special saint’s day, hordes of people converge on that church.
And the amble in, they walk in, they circulate right around
that thing, and they amble out to the main square where
the party’s going on. That’s what you have
an ambulatory for, the outer row where
you amble all along, checking out each of
the little chapels that line the side
and the transcripts, that’s the ambulatory.
Behind the high altar, in the very
extreme eastern end, you’ve got a semi-circular
area which is called the apse. And
near the high altar there’s an area
called the choir. We think of choir
as a singing group, but a choir in
architectural terms is a little church within the church. This is a cozy place that could be
heated and intimate in the middle of a vast stony building.
The choir is where you’ll see an evensong
service, when you go to England you’ll
sit in the choir. There’s a mass every
day in these churches, and it’s given in the
choir, and so on. So if you know those
basic words, I think you have a good start
on understanding the terminology assumed
of you when it comes to describing
a medieval church. This is the Church of the
Basilica of St. Francis, And the Basilica of St.
Francis is just designed for pilgrims.
You can imagine because all the
pilgrims would come there to see the relics of St.
Francis in Assisi. So around
the church is a whole bunch of the associated
buildings that were there for lots
of visitors, pilgrims coming in. The first
European art style is Romanesque.
Romanesque is a small, stubby, thick-walled,
small windowed, dark interior, fortress of
God, kind of church. This is the earliest
Romanesque churches, dating from about the year 1000 .
They feel like fortresses
of God, some of them even have crenellated
towers where you can hide behind with
your bow and arrow, you know, because
these were places of last refuge in a town
that didn’t have a wall. When you think
about Romanesque, remember the carving
is very flat, cluttered, and narrative. It’s just comic book
kind of images so you can read a story,
it doesn’t need to be realistic, they don’t care how
honest, and realistic it looks, you just got to
identify — there’s a woman with a dead
child on her lap, that would be a pietà, you know.
Here’s a guy with a bushy beard
and a key, that would be Peter. And
it was just all that symbolism. The best
place to look for the best carvings of the
age is called the “tympanum.”
The tympanum is the semi- circular area over
the door, okay. Look up there and you’ll see the
best carvings of that church. The most famous, I think, work
of art of the 11th century, I think, would be the
the Bayeux Tapestry. And the Bayeux
tapestry is sort of medieval-style art,
it’s telling a story, if you don’t
understand that that’s Edward, it says Edward
up above, and there’s all sorts of dead soldiers below.
And this is about a 50-yard
long embroidery that goes around the
church, celebrating the Battle of Hastings
when the Normans went over to England and won.
1066. That’s one of the key days.
I don’t remember many dates if I bring
up a date today, this is worth remembering.
Battle of Hastings, 1066, the
Normans invading England from France.
And when you think of the Normans
invading France, they bring with them
their architectural style, which is
Romanesque, but when you go to England you don’t
find Romanesque, you find Norman architecture. If somebody refers to
Norman architecture, it’s the Romanesque
brought over by the Normans. A good
example of Romanesque architecture in England
is in London, the Tower of London, built
for William the Conqueror. And this
was the fortress of London, and when
you go inside that fortress, you can see a glorious Romanesque, or Norman chapel.
And when we look at this chapel, we can see why
Romanesque is called Romanesque. Romanesque is called
Romanesque because of the Roman style columns
and round arches. Roman columns, Roman arches,
Romanesque, year 1,000. This is the Pisan
Romanesque, the town of Pisa has a great
ensemble on its Piazza of Miracles,
you’ve got the church, you’ve got the bell
tower, and you’ve got the baptistry.
And when you have a medieval church complex, it always has those
three elements. So do you remember when
you’re sightseeing, you’ve got the great
church, but in the Middle Ages you could
not go into the church until you were baptized.
So you had to have the baptistry
outside of the church. The baptistry
in Pisa, the baptistry in Florence,
across the square from the church. And
then you’ve got the bell tower, in the
case of Pisa, the leaning bell tower, and
that’s where you’d have the bells ringing
the hours, ringing when it’s time to celebrate,
ringing when you’re under attack, ringing when there’s a fire.
People didn’t have watches,
people didn’t have radios, you had to listen to the
bell to know what was going on. Italy is known as the “land of a thousand bell towers.”
People have a psychological sort
of trait called campanilismo. They
love the sound of their town’s bell tower. If my town, Edmonds,
had a bell tower, I would have campanilismo.
I would — when I get home I’d hear the
town — of my — the sound of my bell tower and I
think, “yes, I’m home.” In each town they
would have a little glockenspiel, the
bells that play, and they would go, rattle, rattle,
rattle, doo Dee doo doo, I’m paying attention,
I’m glad I live here, bong, bong, bong,
it’s three o’clock. Or they would go
fancier, fancier, and then suddenly, bum,
bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, I’m so proud
to live in this town, bong, bong, bong, three o’clock.
So you have those bell towers. You
can climb to a lot of ’em and see those
glockenspiels, the keyboard worth of bells that
they have up there. It’s fun to go to the
top of the Leaning Tower, it’s not leaving
this much, but it is a very tilty place to go to the
top of. Now the next big change is Gothic. And when you have Gothic,
you’ve got a lighter interior. This was a big break,
this is the High Middle Ages now, about
the year 1200, we see Gothic replacing Romanesque. And
when you look at a Gothic church you’re seeing pointed
arches, and you’re seeing more windows.
You’ve still got the tympanum above each of those
doors on the west portal, you see the tympanum. Now
it’s pointed instead of semicircular because
of the pointed arches, but that’s where the
best carvings are, that’s where you’ll
see a lot of stuff to look at. This happens
to be the Notre Dam, the great Gothic
cathedral in Paris. I want to remind you,
when they set out to build these things
they knew it was going to take more than 100 years.
Nobody who dedicated their life to starting this building would
be around to see it finished, but they dedicated their
lives to the church that was an important part
of their communities, even though they
would never see it finished. When you
step inside, you see the beauty of Gothic.
The whole triumph of Gothic is to make
the walls skeletal supporters so they can
now not support the roof, but open up for
windows, you see. A Gothic church is a masterful playing
off against architectural forces so the walls don’t
need to be stubby and thick to hold the
stone ceiling, but so the walls can just be
window holders. And there you see the
ribs bringing that skeleton of support to
key stones on the top. The best way for me,
as a tour guide, to demonstrate Gothic
architecture is to build a Gothic cathedral
out of tourists. Now I’ll use the
photograph instead of asking for 12
volunteers, here are 13 volunteers, but it takes 13 tourists
to make a Gothic cathedral. Follow me here, you got
three — six columns, so you get volunteers,
and you got three columns here, and three
columns facing us. These are columns, each
has ribs coming together. Forget the elbows,
forget rib is not here. Architecturally
speaking, this is a rib that goes to the top of the cell — the roof. Now when you have your
spire, four ribs coming together here, and four ribs over here, when you have
your spire hoisting himself up, the weight of that spire, if it’s a round
arch, is going to go straight down and you’re going to need stronger knees,
fatter knees, no room for windows. If you point the arch up, you don’t
need a stronger wall anymore. The weight of the spire
when he hoists himself up, because it’s
pointed, pushes you out. So instead of stronger walls, you
need buttresses to push the walls in. So you ask for six volunteers, and
the buttresses come prancing up. They stand flush against
the columns, and then you want to free
up even more room on the walls, so you ask
the buttresses to take one step back and fly
in with your support. Flying buttresses, okay. Now you’ve
got that skeleton of support, you got your flying buttresses, you
got your columns, you got your ribs, you got your pointed arches, and you’ve
got a strong, wiry lightweight person, I hope, that hoist themselves up to be the
spire, and it’s all solid as can be, and that’s the essence of Gothic. And if
you’re ever having a party that’s just not going over very well,
you can say, “hey let’s build a Gothic cathedral,
it just takes 13 of us.” You can see these beautiful flying
buttresses, you can see the pointed arches, it’s fun to
know about that before you step into these churches.
Remember, and by the way when I say cathedral,
that just means the seat of a bishop. “Cathedra” is the word for
the throne of the bishop. So if there’s a bishop there,
and if that’s his church, that’s a cathedral. St.
Peter’s in Rome is the most important
Church in Christendom. It’s not a cathedral because it’s not the
home of the bishop, right. Little tiny towns can have a cathedral. Wells, in
England, is the smallest city. A city is the name of a town that has a bishop,
so technically Wells is a city and its church is a cathedral.
In Italy you hear the word “duomo” a lot.
“Duomo” is the Italian word for cathedral.
Now here we have the facade of the Reims
Cathedral, and it’s just one of the great Gothic
cathedrals, and I like it because it’s beautifully
floodlit, it’s the lacy, grand, example of a west portal on the
Gothic church. And at night they have a sound and light show. And it looks
garish, but this is really cool because this is a reminder that these churches
were originally painted like this. Hard to believe, but when you think of the
white Gothic statues in the white Gothic facades, you gotta remember that this is
the color scheme of those churches 800 years ago, and all of
that paint is gone now. All sorts of beautiful churches. They
used to be surrounded by graveyards, and now those graveyards are pulled up
during the Napoleonic Age and parked elsewhere so you’ve got open space around
the churches. Churches went taller, and taller, and taller, until they
actually started falling down. This is the Cologne Cathedral in Germany,
one of the tallest cathedrals. In Italy they had Gothic architecture but because,
I believe, that they were sitting on the rubble of Rome, they had a more
classic aesthetic and they didn’t like tall spires, it was just tense and
not very solid — stable to them. They wanted things to be squat, stable,
symmetrical, not so towering, and they would have less tall churches, but
they would make up for the grandeur by really decorating the west port, the
western port. So you’ve got facades, like these churches in Orvieto and in Siena,
that are just like, you know, just fruit cake kind of fancy, and you got that in
Italy. And now the architecture evolves until it reaches what’s called flame-like
Gothic, that’s the final stage of Gothic, flamboyant Gothic, and that’s the
last stage of Gothic before its sort of collapse, and is replaced by the
Renaissance. Here we have the cathedral in Milano. And this is spires, upon spires,
upon spires, frilly, ornate, the same thing happens inside. You had the pure ribs, and
then they got more and more decorative, until you have fan vaulting. That’s as
they get fancier, and fancier, and forget the simplicity of the original churches.
When we look at that stained-glass, we gotta remember this was so important in the
Middle Ages. People were not literate, they went to church one day a week, this
was their break from the drudgery of their peasant lives. And they’d
step into church, and back then, if ever religion was the opiate of the
masses it was back then, they’d stepped into church and they’d read the
beautiful Bible stories, and it made sense to them. And teachers could use
this as an example. And it’s not my idea of necessarily a great time to spend
half an hour with a scholar explaining every window, but once in your life it’s
nice for somebody to give you an idea of how sophisticated and cohesive the
sermons are in each of these windows. Malcom Miller does that
in Chartres, and it’s just brilliant. If you get a
chance to go to Chartres, be sure you take his tour. But here we
have a window at Chartres Cathedral, and I forget exactly examples but you got
image, you know, images demonstrating Jesus’s life going up the middle. On the
left you have Old Testament, on the right you have New Testa — parallel lessons,
and it all reaches some beautiful biblical sort of finale on top.
It’s all tied together. And when we
look at those windows, we are just, I think, blown away by the
fact that the High Middle Ages were pretty darn sophisticated. They would
make the stained glass by melting minerals into the molten glass or by
painting it after it was already baked, and then they would put it together
in these lead sort of borders. Remember throughout the Middle Ages,
the church was the noble endeavor. You could have art as long as it
decorated the church. And the craftspeople that made
the art were anonymous. They were not supposed to be famous.
Nobody knew who was making all these beautiful things,
they were anonymous craftspeople. This guy’s
name is Adam Kraft, and he is the first sort of architect
that actually honored himself by sneaking a self-portrait
in, and this is a reminder that things
are about to change when we step into the Renaissance. But in
the Middle Ages, it was all to the glory of God. You had exquisite
art celebrating the Virgin Mary, and you had to
exquisite art reminding you who the saint was that you should be
thankful for, and so on. In Barcelona, St. George is the patron saint, so you
got St. George everywhere you look. If you go to England and you find a
church dedicated to St. Michael, you can pretty much bet that church was
built on a pre-Christian pagan holy spot, because St. Michael was in charge of
tamping down the evil spirits. And they would park St. Michael on that church in
order to keep those evil spirits from the pagan holy spot from corrupting
what was going on in the church. If you’re in Paris and you see a guy
holding his head in his hand, that’s got to be St. Dennis. Because according
to the story about St. Dennis, he was an early martyr and got his head
chopped off. And you will recognize these symbols as you travel, and you’ll be able
to read beautiful Bible stories into beautiful church art when
you enjoy the churches of the Middle Ages.
Remember, until now, you didn’t need to be realistic. You
don’t need to understand the body, you don’t need to know really how a dead
body lays on his mother’s lap, it can be just a paper mache Jesus on Mary’s lap,
and that tells you that is a pietà. Of course that will change when we get
Michelangelo and the Renaissance. Back then people looked at art because
it told a story. Here you got 20 or 30 pages, all telling a story. When you
looked at an altarpiece in the church, you would find, above the high altar, the
most important piece of art in that town in a lot of cases, and a lot of times
it be carved, and behind that would be canvases, and you would have many panels
going back and forth. This is a polyptych, a many-paneled altarpiece that
could swing and show you different scenes depending on
the time of year. Or you could have a simple triptych,
three panels that would come together, and half of each scene and the back
would come together and show you a full scene. The first — the last great
Gothic painter, and maybe the first of the modern painters, is Giotto. He preceded
the Renaissance by about a hundred years, and if you want to see
Giotto’s work you can see a lot of it in the great
cultural centers of Italy. Perhaps the best collection of Giotto is
in Padua, where you can find the Scrovegni Chapel. And you step into this Chapel,
and the entire thing is frescoed by Giotto and his aides and students.
And we find here a cohesive story that just tells an entire — the life
of Mary, or the life of Jesus, or whatever, and when you look at
this, you see powerful visual images that were really
effective teachers 600 years ago. Also when we look at this we are looking at
frescoes. You hear the word “fresco” a lot. It’s not technically a painting, fresco
is mixing the pigments into the wet plaster. It was very permanent and you
had to be very fast, because when it was dry, it was dry. But it survives a
lot better than canvas, alright. So fresco artists, and a lot of this
art is fresco, they would draw a cartoon on the wall, and then they would
mix the color into the plaster and they would apply it to the wall, they’d rough
up the walls so the plaster would stick to it, and when the plaster
dried, the color was the wall, I mean it was so strong. And you’ll see
frescoes all over in your travels. A beautiful thing about going to, for
instance, this Scrovegni Chapel is, you follow the whole story through. It
always culminates with a Judgment Day. Here you have Jesus coming down on
Judgment Day. On one side people are going to heaven, and on the other side
people — well these are the people going to heaven, and on the other side are
people just kicking off a pretty miserable eternity, going to hell. And I
just love to look at these hell scenes and get a sense of the the power of the
church to scare people into toeing the line from a church obedience point of
view. All of this art now is paid for, and you got to ask yourself, “who paid for
it, and why, what was going on?” And if you look at a lot of the art, you can get an
indication of what medieval guild would have paid for it. If you’ve got a
beautiful church in your town and it needs a nice new door, perhaps the
Carpenters, or the Masons, or the Drapers will pay for that. If
the Carpenters pay for it, they’ll hire somebody to make this niche
and put a statue of St. George, or whatever, and in the bottom you would
have a little ad that says, “this program was brought to you by the
generous people at the Cobbler’s Guild.” Remember
next time you need a shoe, these are good people,
they gave this to your church, all right.
And that would be the advertising of the Middle Age,
and you’d see that in the church. Remember, acidic air has wrecked havoc on
all sorts of precious art. And what we need to do is be thankful that the
church has taken the statues off of the churches now, all over Europe, and put them in museums associated with
the church. And this is one of the great underrated attractions in Europe. Most
travelers just go to the church, because there it is, it’s right
there, it’s front and center, it’s big, it’s free, it’s dramatic, but
the great art is across the street in the museum of the church, and we’re kind
of tired by the time we get there. Give some energy to seeing the Museo Del
Duomo, you know, that’s in Florence, they’ve got the Museo dell’Opera Del
Duomo, where you’ve got all sorts of great art on how they made the church,
and the great art that used to be in the niches of the church. When you go to these
museums associated with the church, you get to see the originals,
even though their faces are all rotted because
of the 800 years of air, you get to see the originals where the
new ones are stuck in the niches today, and you get some fun little glimpses at
the history of that church. For instance, gargoyles. Gargoyles are fascinating, you
know, they’re storm drains right on the edge of the buildings. And on a
rainstorm the water would spew out. You hear about when there’s a big fire
in a church, the copper panels of the rooftop melt because
of the fire. I’ve always heard about
this, the molten copper was cascading
down the church. And I just thought, what a horrible thought,
but I couldn’t really imagine the roof becoming molten, you know,
metal. And then in this museum, I saw a gargoyle that was,
because of the storm of molten copper coming down off of the roof or lead,
he was spewing out the molten metal. And then it got solid, and right there
we can see that very odd little souvenir of a terrible fire in a church
somewhere in France. You needed a lot of castles to protect all of these petty
little countries. And you’ve got the very earliest castles, which are generally this
motte-and-bailey design. A motte-and- bailey means a man-made mound in a
boonsboro-type stockade. And you’ll see that motte-and-bailey
in your travels, for instance, well when
you travel in Ireland you can actually see some
classic old, you know, melted ice cube or sugar cube, kind of
motte-and-bailey structures. When you go to York there’s a motte with a castle,
Clifford’s tower, right on the top. When you’re traveling through medieval
sites, you need to remember, it took money to build beautiful towns and to fortify
them so they would survive. The most beautiful, popular tourist towns today
are probably so beautiful because they were great trading towns
600 or 800 years ago. Rothenburg is everybody’s favorite
medieval Germantown, crossroads of two trading routes, lots of trade there
in Rothenburg, consequently beautiful buildings that survived to this day.
In the very earliest days, it was too expensive to build a stone building, so
they would do it with timbers, and they would fill in the timbers with mud, and
cow pies, and so on, and then they would plaster over that, wattle and daub. You see
a lot of that in thatched buildings in England. Of course that’s the
building of a poor person, if you’re a rich person you
have a stone building. If you’re a poor person that wants to
look richer than you are, you build a wattle and daub building,
and then you plaster it over and you pretend
that that is stone. A lot of people covered up their wattle
and daub half-timbered look because that was low class. And then in the modern
times, people found the wattle and daub, the half timbered look
more charming, and more profitable from a
tourism point of view, so they peeled away their
fake stone and proudly showed their
half-timberedness, like this oldest town — the oldest building
in Bacharach on the Rhine River. I bet one day it was
covered up with stucco, so it looked like
a stone building, and then in the modern era they peeled
away the stucco to reveal the half timber. Many towns burned down because
they were all fire — all wood. And it got to the point where they
decreed, like in Oslo, you can’t have a building
in the town center unless it is made out of stone. A lot of
times people would cheat on that, and they would have a stone facade, and if you
go into the courtyard around the back, you can still see that half-timbered
wattle and daub sneaking through. The trade in the Middle
Ages was on the river, you had all these petty little kingdoms
along the river, they each had a castle, these were the original Robber Baron
castles. They would levy duty from the boats that come down the river. this is Pfalz castle, actually a castle
in the middle of the river with a chain going out on both sides. Boats
coming down the river, they hoist their chain, “you can’t go by,” until you pay
your duty, then they drop the chain and you can carry on to the next
Robber Baron castle. You can imagine why city merchants were
the original supporters of kings that wanted to create big national
units, because that would give them better free trade. Free trade, Hanseatic
League, was a way to get around all those petty things and had a trading
range in between all these great cities. The feudal lords were really — found it
convenient for Europe to be fragmented, because they could levy all those duties.
And today Europe is getting more and more free trade until — the EU is the
final development of that, and you got 400 million people that all have free
trade. But in the old days, it was just the opposite of that, all these robber
baron castles. When you go around Europe and you find the mightiest castles, a lot
of times these are castles that are not from the people where
the castle is located, but from the conquerors
that came in. If you go to Iraq today, you’ll probably
find a lot of fortresses that were built with American help as we came in and tried
to stabilize things there. When you go to Wales today, you’ll find a lot of
castles built by England, who wanted to stabilize things. They wanted to keep
down the insurgents. You keep down the insurgents by having castles with green
zones attached to the castles. In Baghdad, you fly in like this, down to the green
zone, where you have your castle. In the old days, of course, you didn’t have a
flight pattern like this for safety, you attract — you came in by boat which
was safe. So you look at the castles in Wales, and generally they’ll be a mighty
castle with a fortified port, and then a grid planned garrison town within walls.
And that was the English foothold in that part of Wales surrounded
by angry indigenous people. You’ll find more castles per square mile
in Wales than almost anywhere else. These are amazing castles, and
you want to check them out for sure when you’re
traveling in Wales. Remember, when you have a little country,
you have a castle that would be the center of that, and it would have the
ability to house most of the town and the troops there when
they’re under attack, and that means you have
to have a big pantry. There are huge cellars where they would
keep provisions for the the the times when they were under siege. And before
the advent of cannons, the defenses were stronger than the offenses, ans the
standard warfare was siege warfare. Surround ’em, we’ll never break
through, we’ll just starve them out. So you have to have a well, and
a big pantry, and lots of food, and wait it out. Warfare was really
boring back then. Later on they developed cannons and things changed. Also remember when you’re
sightseeing, in the Middle Ages, because of this lack of
central powers, big shots, the Rockefellers, and, you know, the
local families, the Medici, whoever, they would have their own — they were
warlords, they would have their own armies and they would have their own
fortifications. Think of the Montagues and the Capulets in Verona, from
Romeo and — Shakespeare story, those were two families, each with their
own armies and probably each with their own fortified towers. All the towns in
Italy had these noble family towers which threatened the king. So whenever you’d
have a strong central power he would likely
say, “I’m offended by all these noble
pieces — people — families with their, towers tear
down your towers.” There’s only one town in Italy that has
its medieval, bristly, noble family skyline surviving, and that’s San
Gimignano. And that’s where you see all of these towers. Not unique to San
Gimignano, uniquely surviving in San Gimignano. Each one of those towers would
be the fortress of a wealthy family. I mentioned early castles were stronger
than the offense, and you could just build a tall castle
and say, “you can’t come in.” But when
cannons came along, they could knock those castles
down really easy. So what you get after the age of cannon
is squat castles. They don’t want to stand on top of the hill
saying, “come and get it,” they’re squat,
they’re crouching down, and their walls are 30 feet thick. And
you can pummel it with cannonballs all day long and not get through. So when you see a
modern-day castle, like here in Lucca, or in
the fortress around Milano, you’re going to
see a cannon hardened castle, and that’s bringing
in the modern age. Remember a lot of these palaces in the
countryside, and royal fortified palaces, and everything, were pretty Spartan. If
they were a palace for the king, the king only came a few times in his lifetime,
and they would have — the royal party was moving around, and they would have, I think
you’d call them the royal equivalent of roadies, that went ahead and set up the
place when the king and his entourage arrived. In France you find a
lot of that when you go to the different palaces, and countryside
castles, and chateaux, each one had a room fit for a king, and
when the king came they would furnish it. The French word for furniture is “meubles,”
right. And it — the furniture was all collapsible. They could fold up the
tables, fold up the chairs, grab the chests with handles on them, put them on
their wagons, and go to the next chateau. So when you look at your royal furniture
remember, it all fits in a wagon. The walls were cold and drafty, and you
would have your whole royal collection of tapestries you’d hang up there to
warm up the place. And the tapestries were sort of the newsletters of the day,
they would tell folk wisdom, they would tell whatever has happened politically,
they would make the king feel good. You’ll find exquisite tapestries all
over medieval Europe, warming up the walls of these otherwise
barren chateaux. When France, which had a lot of castles,
became established, suddenly you’ve got a fortifying castle, a defensive castle
in the middle of a very stable country, you don’t need it anymore. These morph
into hunting lodges and luxury getaways for kings and their
mistresses, alright. All along the Loire Valley you
find chateaux that originated as defensive castles, that became ridiculous
from a defense point of view, and they just became really
over-the-top, ostentatious getaways for royals. Like
Chambord, shown here. 440 rooms. This was a hunting
palace for the king, he rarely came there. If you
look at Chenonceau, again, it’s an over-the-top castle
that has no defensive purposes. This is a party house run by the king’s
mistress and decorated with a real feminine touch. A lot of the castles were
very feminine because they were the ones with unlimited budgets and not off on
Crusades or off fighting, but they’re at home busying themselves by
decorating up some fancy chateau. When we look at what we’ve just talked
about, in the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages go from 500 to 1000. And we’ve got the
fall of Rome, meaning barbarians are going all over the place throughout this
age. You’ve got monasteries providing some semblance of order around
Europe, as that was really the the shadow of Rome’s structure of rule.
The rule of Charlemagne is the only important sort of big political event
in the middle of the Dark Ages. Byzantium was former day
Constantinople. It is Istanbul, what Istanbul is today. It came
well into Europe, and it even threatened Vienna at one point. And Islam cuts
across Africa and moves all into Spain. So that was kind of what we see, in a
blotchy kind of way, in the first half of the Middle Ages. When we
look at the High Middle Ages, we still have Byzantium and
we still have Islam, but what we have here is Europe
coming into the four. We’ve got that first European art style,
Romanesque, which goes from 1000 to 1200, we’ve got Gothic picking it up from
there until the Renaissance, and we got the Renaissance kicking in
around the year 1400. At this point, Europe is still Euro-centric.
Maps show a fuzzy understanding of where the world ends,
it’s just kind of scary, “woe to ye who sail
beyond this point, dragons live over there,” and you’ve
got Jerusalem in the center, okay. So it’s a Christian
centric, a Euro-centric map, with no sense of
the rest of the world. That’s gonna change. You’ve got an inkling
now of humanism, where people are getting it together. This is the city
hall in the main square, standing like an exclamation point, declaring,
“we can figure this out.” And that’s the people in the
city state of Siena in Italy, they’re starting to come together that way.
There’s an alertness, it’s still a church dominated world, but there’s an
alertness, and Europe is ready to step out of the Middle Ages and
into the Renaissance. And that’s
where we’re going next. Thank you very much.

Dereck Turner

32 thoughts on “Art I: Medieval 500–1400, with Rick Steves

  1. TheLloydA1 says:

    some of the History is not always correct, and it seems to be more of a history lesson rather than about art, but so far its enjoyable.

  2. John N says:

    Thanks a lot for the great lecture Steve!  This really compliments your Art History 101 book, which was a very enjoyable and engaging read!  Keep them coming!

  3. Hasan Mahmood says:

    Rick, Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge and the awesome talk.

  4. mikku54432 says:

    Is it okay if I use your video for my report in Art History I?

  5. Ada Formo says:

    so much of this is just…not facts

  6. Tom Bombadil says:

    americans pronounce foreign words so that they don't even resemble the original. Giotto? Chartres?

  7. diki969 says:

    Why in all maps that concern to medieval or ancient period above Armenia is empty area where the Georgia is today? There was kingdom of Iberia than ( and also Kholkheti kingdom which is known its Golden Fleece (that is Knowledge )that Aeëtes took to Greece. It was the hegemonic Kingdom under which Armenia was mainly during whole history until the late period ( I mean at 2:51 map) . Cause of bad PR or lack of information ?

  8. Islam Said says:

    Thank you so much for this dr i appreciate it

  9. vanner says:

    Please add more facts

  10. TheBro says:

    Thank you very much…

  11. m g a says:

    it's very exagerated – for getting students' attention?

  12. m g a says:

    do you know that there is castilla y leon and aragon, and another country that would never be Spain, Portugal????? be accurate!

  13. georgedebleu says:

    I like Rick's shows and talks – have enjoyed them for two decades or more,   but his  utter ignorance of the Crusades and its cause and effect is astounding.  This is further compounded by his ignorance of Islam, its origins and history.

  14. William Nguyen says:

    Very informative and fun! Rick Steves 's travel videos are the best I have ever watched. His speech is articulating, concise and easy to undertand. They have enhanced my European travel experiences particularly my appreciation for European Arts, history cultures. I am deeply grateful to him for making such videos available to the general public . Thank you so much. Will

  15. Princess Nylani says:

    Interesting video so far- taking notes as I went along because I'm doing my next Art project on Medieval Art 🙂 Done several pages already.

  16. Rayan ization says:

    As much as I enjoyed the lecture, but it felt like a history class than art!!

  17. -- says:

    Mr. steves…! Where is art….!!!!??? TT

  18. chrissinn100 says:

    Crusades were completely defensive.

  19. Echa says:

    i saw people commenting that this is biased….can anyone suggest a great concised book (ebook to be exact) on medieval history that is objective and easy to understand for amateurs like me? i am watching this cos i'm interested in learning this but apparently people said it's not good enough or entirely true 🙁

  20. Marianna di Lorenzo says:

    Very Good!

  21. Michelle R. Acker says:

    Great video, I enjoyed it very much!

  22. Granny's Bible says:

    This was wonderful. It is so rare for anyone to attempt an overview of this much history within a one hour straitjacket and Rick does an excellent job of making it fit and make sense.

  23. gavin Reid says:

    Five minutes in. This is really bad history.

  24. gavin Reid says:

    During this period the people did not refer to the era as Middle Ages. They considered themselves Modern and thought that , due to invasions, and plagues, that they were probably living at the approach of the end of days, apocalypse.

  25. gavin Reid says:

    The biggest social/ economic change in Europe during this time was due to plague. Huge numbers of deaths meant that the surviving Serfs, , could move around and demand high wages.

  26. gavin Reid says:

    Second council of Nicaea 787……..?

  27. TauraCasanova says:

    Um, excuse you, Scandinavian land is highly fertile and most of the people during the viking era were actually engaged in farming. Not even 5 minutes in and I'm leaving, because clearly this guy has no clue what he's talking about.

  28. Sherab Nyima says:

    Correction:the coronation of Charlemagne took place at Rome, not Paris.

  29. dirk diggler says:

    interesting when he is talking about the robber Barrons and how today we have free trade in Europe

    although the EU is run by the Rober Barron central banking cartel today

  30. Isaac Williams says:

    Tell when they started to paint the pictures of God and the saints white

  31. mkajzer says:

    The original 1%… LOL

  32. Ying Lin says:

    Did he pronounce Byzantine wrong? Shouldn't it be '[baɪˈzntaɪn]'?

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