Distorting Madonna in Medieval Art
Created by James Earle, Adrian Garcia, Allison Dressler Kramer and Evan Sussman
TEDEducation Video, 2013
After Rome was destroyed, people were wary of attachment to physical beauty. As Christianity gained traction, Romans instead began to focus on the metaphysical beauty of virtue, and art began to follow suit. James Earle discusses how Medieval paintings of Madonna were affected by this shift.
Excerpt: Ever see a medieval painting of baby Jesus sitting or standing on his mother’s lap
and wonder why she’s so large? Paintings like Cimabue’s enthroned Madonna with angels or Duccio’s Maesta also appear out of proportion. If Mary were to stand up, it seems, the angels in the picture would be as tall as her shin bone, and her torso would be disproportionately small when compared to her legs.
Maybe you thought the artist simply wasn’t skilled enough to paint realistically or lacked the mathematical skill of perspective. But that’s not the full story. To understand why, we need to go back to the late fifth century when the city of Rome was attacked by the Goths. Rome was built in marble and meant to last forever. It represented, for many years, the pinnacle of human civilization, so its destruction left a huge void.