Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Thou Art Mine and I Am Thine

Knights and courtly love in the Middle Ages



I sat me on a stone, my legs were crossed, alone. Then rested I my elbow too, with chin and cheek in hand.
Sorrowfully did I then ponder, how one might live in this world of ours.

Walther von der Vogelweide, before 1230



The singing troubadours:
Kraft von Toggenburg, Hartmann von Aue and Werner von Teufen
in the Manesse illuminated manuscript



Draughty corridors and icy stone chambers. Medieval castles were anything but cosy. It was a time when glass was still a luxury that few could afford. During winter months, pelts and animal skins, instead of glass, covered the openings, or they were simply boarded up altogether. Castle kitchens promised a fire, where the residents gathered out of necessity to warm themselves around its large hearth. At times chivalrous life may have been adventurous, but it certainly was not easy. The medieval German lyric poet and soldier, Oswald von Wolkenstein, whose castle was in South Tyrol, complained that he led a wretched life. He struggled for his daily bread and in the lives of those around him, he saw nothing but intense hardship: ungainly people, filthy goats and cattle, all blackened by the soot of fires; nor could he take pleasure in the sounds he heard around him: braying donkeys and screaming peacocks.

The bleak existence of daily life may explain the medieval passion for elaborate and lively banquets; these were frequent and certainly would have filled their dining halls with food and good cheer. Residents and guests at the Frohburg Castle (which literally translated means "happy castle") in Switzerland, for example, devoured "106 wild boar, 73 deer, 61 bear, 3 elk and 2 aurochs (now extinct)" during the course of a long winter. These festivities also meant good business for the Teutonic troubadours or minnesingers. Most of these minnesingers were errant knights, meaning that they were "chansonniers". Their songs dealt with Platonic or chaste courtly love.

When chivalry was at its peak in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, courage and loyalty were not the only virtues to be sung. Songs which praised a pure Christian life, defended the poor and, above all, paid homage to the ladies of the court, could also be heard. Although aristocratic ladies were always under the authority of their fathers, brothers or husbands, they enjoyed the status of goddesses in chivalric society. Courtly love, Minne, became an ideal because it exacted the patience, endurance and submission of its practitioners. Men courted the favour of ladies whose social status was often higher than their own. Consequently, they had to "earn" the favour they sought by winning tournaments or writing poetry, setting it to music and singing it.

The most important itinerant troubadour in central Europe was Walther von der Vogelweide. Born in about 1170 in Lower Austria, be lived at various courts until he received a fief from the Emperor Frederick II which ensured him a steady income. Some of his poetry has been preserved in the Manesse illuminated manuscript, which contains nearly 6,000 stanzas of verse written by 140 poets between 1160 and 1350. It is said to have been collated and illuminated at the court of Ruedtger Manesse, who represented the knights' estate in the Zurich City Council from 1264. This magnificent codex, which includes sumptuous full-page portraits of the authors, is one of the most important medieval illuminated manuscripts in the world.


The Minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide as a Knight Errant
From the Codex Manesse
Illuminated manuscript
Heidelberg University Library, Heidelberg


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