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Museum Report - The Cloisters - In medieval Europe, religion formed the center of life for almost everyone, and it created a unifying force throughout the continent. The church governed every aspect of life

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ISI 201 Museum Report - The Cloisters January 26, 2002 In medieval Europe, religion formed the center of life for almost everyone, and it created a unifying force throughout the continent. The church governed every aspect of life, and people viewed it with equal parts reverence, fear, and awe. The dominance of the Church is reflected in the art of the period. Almost all of the art of the time revolves around religious themes, and much of it was created for display or use in the church. While religion was almost invariably the subject of art, changes in society brought about changes in the aspects of religion portrayed and the light in which it was interpreted. As technology developed, advances were evident in art as well as churches and monasteries. ...read more.


We typically think of art as something that is created for aesthetic pleasure or to express the artist's feelings or make a statement. It is generally signed and attributed to the individual, and is usually produced for profit. Craft, on the other hand, tends to be more utilitarian. While it may be ornately decorated or exquisitely detailed, it serves a purpose beyond the aesthetic. By this classification, a painter or sculptor would be considered artists, while a silversmith or glazier would be seen as craftsmen. A silversmith may create a lavishly ornamented set of goblets that are beautiful to see, but their primary purpose is utilitarian, and not aesthetic. In pre-industrial societies, the distinction was much harder to find, as there was not generally enough leisure to allow for indulgences in the arts. ...read more.


"The Unicorn in Captivity," probably the most famous of the medieval tapestries, uses the unicorn to represent Christ, and the scene depicts him as content and pleased with his surroundings. Combined with the plentiful vegetation, specifically the pomegranate, which was a symbol of marriage and fertility, and several herbs that were used as fertility aids at the time, the scene is a celebration of God, life and fertility. Much of what we consider to be symbolic today was taken very literally in medieval times. For example, when modern Catholics receive the Eucharist, they are participating in a ritual of great importance, but they do not believe they are consuming the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. In the Middle Ages, however, most people took such ceremonies literally, and believed wholeheartedly in the power of the Eucharist. Similarly, many believed that God, or more specifically, the Holy Spirit, actually resided in religious crafts or works of art. ...read more.

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