JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 523
I do enjoy looking at pictures of crowds--big crowds. Images of the crowd are much easier to find in the 19th century and onwards (and particularly in photographs), though big displays of human seas (such as they were) began to show up in the late 15th century, and then, more as a matter of course, in the early 16th century. What is enjoyable for me are the numerous vignettes that make up the whole, discrete visions within the larger visual field, a sweep of smallnesses that can seemingly stand on their own had they been bigger.
Depicting crowds can be a chore successful and not--for example, the image to the left, an amalgamated porridge of controlled mock combat, a sweeping chaos with appreciative bystanders, is so busy, and has so many constituent parts, that there
really isn't a "whole". I can hardly see the thing, for crying out
loud, for all of the disconnected action. The artist who produced this
remarkably good/bad image for Georg Ruexner's fantastic Anfamg, Ursprung und Herkomen de Thirnirs in Teutscher Nation
(published in 1530) clearly had interest only in the details of the
action; and thus the overall image is a beautiful confusion of starts
and fits, defiant in its general appeal to comprehension. The impression to me is a miserably layered oneness of discordant activity, a sloppy relief of enormous detail, the whole worth far less than the sum of its parts.
The only place that your eye gets a chance to rest and focus is on the two dozen or so spectators who are in the windows and balconies overlooking the small square where the tournament was taking place--their appearance, and also that of the small assembly of musicians at center, offer a calming influence to the rest of the picture.
One bit that leaps out at me, though, are the two small boys who seem to be having a fistfight, right there at the bottom-right of the image. I can tell you that pictures of boys fighting finding their way into piece of renaissance art is a very rare thing. Perhaps the artist was trying to send us a message, after all?
(I know this is a pretty big complaint, particularly since the book is a monumental work on The Tournament, and it was done within the first 65 years or so of the invention of movable type printing, but I just found the thing so opitcally corrosive that I wanted to surface it. )
The second example, coming to us from Antonio Mongitore (L'Atto Pubblico di Fede Solennemente Celebrato nella citta di Palermo, 1724) depicts an earlier scene, and one of complexity and order. Unfortunately, the cohesion centers around the execution of two tried/convicted heretics--god knows what they did to deserve this cleansing sentence. It didn't take all that much during the Inquisition to find yourself in deep black waters, as Mother Church seems to have been extraordinarily thin-skinned; the slightest abrasion to their slight slate of moral indignities could result in being hurt in foul way, and then burned alive at the stake.
But in looking closer at this image, I'm not sure sure that these two unfortunates were actually being burnt--it may be that they were being roasted alive.
They are seated, and the pyre seems to be only behind them--perhaps the flames hadn't reached them yet; but people were in fact roasted, cooked alive, which may be even more girzzly than being consumed entirely by flames. The two are being approached, or watched, or offered too-late benedictions by a line of clerics shielded by a crucifix--perhaps they were just reminding the condemned exactly who it was that they had pissed off.
There is no doubt that this was
a popular diversion for those not in fear of being burnt at the stake,
as there are probably hundreds of people in attendance, including those
in a semi-circle of pre-modern "skybox" accommodations--undoubtedly the
holier folks. Piety of witnessing best in privacy and all that.