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The Age of Chivalry: Art and Society in Late Medieval England.

Ed. by Nigel Saul, A History Today Book (London: Collins & Brown, 1992). 144 pp.; 16 colour figures. ISBN 1-85585-052-4. 20.00[pounds]. Nigel Saul, Juliet and Malcolm Vale, Nigel Ramsay, Peter Draper, janet Backhouse, Brian Stone, Pamela Tudor-Craig and Veronica Sekules are the contributors to this celebration of the achievement of English architects, masons, carpenters, illuminators, writers and their patrons between 1200 and 1500. The full impact of this culture can now never be fully appreciated. Some of its manifestations, in tournament, costumes, processions and the rituals of court and cathedral, were by their nature ephemeral. The smaller-scale creations of embroiderers and goldsmiths (possibly England's greatest strength) have been almost totally lost. Some indication of the international renown of such craftsmen can be appreciated in the description in December 1483 by an Itahan ecclesiastic, Dominic Mancini, of the traffic in precious wares and gold and silver cups through London's thoroughfare of Westcheap and the warehouses and homes of the city's merchants and craftsmen. The total effect of the furnishings of parish churches, from gold and silver shrines and figure sculptures to wall-painting has been, thanks to the Reformation and Civil War iconoclasm, irreparably lost, though Pamela Tudor-Craig describes some of the wall-paintings to emerge over the last thirty years from the plaster of rural parish churches and cottages.

The distinctively English nature of line-drawing in manuscripts and on walls, of fourteenth-century perpendicular architecture, and of the Arthurian myths celebrated in vernacular literature and the chivalric rituals and orders of the Crown, amounts to an affirmation of English national identity which was also asserted on the battlefields of France. The Age of Chivalry also shows how changes in patronage indicate that the collective, aristocratic, masculine monopolies of culture represented by the great eleventh- and twelfth-century abbeys and castles were giving way from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries to the smaller foundations of the economically and socially ambitious. Their memorials, in the form of chantry chapels, funeral monuments and brasses, chart the development of a more diverse society which held the individualistic attitudes that were to characterize the Renaissance.

Inevitably one regrets that in such an elegantly produced work there are not more colour illustrations to accompany descriptions of manuscript illuminations and wall-paintings.
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Author:Hughes, Jonathan
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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