The Use of Fantasy by European Artists from 1250 to 1650 A.D.
By Annabell Polk
Master’s Thesis, University of Texas, 1964
Introduction: This study will trace the development of fantasy in European painting from 1250 to 1650 A.D. Fantastic paintings are usually thought to be of the twentieth century and associated with such artists as Klee, Chagall and Kandinsky. But no twentieth century Surrealist has been able to devise imagery as riotous or as surprising as that of Hieronymous Bosch, Piero di Cosimo, and other painters of the period approximately 1250-1650 A.D. This period includes the late Middle Ages when religious stories were the main subject of the artist, and it extends into the High Renaissance when the Greek culture was being reborn in stories illustrating every possible myth and allegory. The church In the Middle Ages had been the main patron of the arts; but when the merchant and middle class emerged, they in turn became patrons. Thus, there was a demand for art to decorate bosses of the newly prosperous and also public buildings. Throughout the period artists continued to use both religious and mythological subject matter. The religious painters were able to Justify almost any subject matter if it were given a religious title. Thus, if one wanted to paint what a Greek would have entitled “Apollo,” one did a Saint Sebastian and added a few painless arrows. After the period of the strict formula for painting religious scenes it must have teen a great relief to the artist of the fifteenth and later centuries to be able to deal with human nature in non-religious terms and to find not only themes which would make one’s choice seem reasonable, but also themes which would suggest new combinations of the human form.
The use of fantasy by the artists of the period 1250-1650 A.D. will be discussed under five categories.
1. Fantasy was used by artists in religious paintings, which served as a visual book to be viewed by the people. The artist used fantasy to show or illustrate events or miracles which could not be logically explained.
2. Fantasy was used by the artists to portray Greek and Roman mythological subjects and events.
3. Fantasy was used by the artists to present allegorical figures and ideas.
4. Fantasy was used to illustrated dreams or visions.
5. Finally, fantasy was used to create and present all kinds of fantastic creatures and monsters of the subconscious or dream world.