Tag Archives: Unknown Artist

“From off his horse the Emperor now descends”

Grandes Chroniques Roland. Eight Stages of The Song of Roland in One Picture.
Grandes Chroniques Roland. Eight Stages of The Song of Roland in One Picture.

from La Chanson de Roland

trans. Dorothy L. Sayers



From off his horse the Emperor now descends;

On the green grass he kneels with bended head,

Then to the sunrise he lifts his face addressed

And prays to God with heartfelt reverence:

“Father most true, this day my cause defend!

Thou that to Jonah Thy succour didst extend

In the whale’s belly, and safely draw him thence,

And after, spare the king of Nineveh;

Thou that didst save Thy servant Daniel

From torments dire within the lions’ den,

And the Three Children amid the fire protect,

Lord, be thy love this day my present help;

And, if it please Thee, grant that ere this day’s end

Roland my nephew may fully be avenged!”

His prayer is done; rising, he stands erect;

The sign of power he makes on brow and breast.

Now to the saddle once more the King has leapt,

Joz’ran and Naimon to hold his stirrup bend;

He takes his shield, his sharpened spear as well;

Comely his body and straight and nobly held,

His face is frank, his looks are confident;

Forward he rides, firm in the stirrup set.

To van, to rear, the braying clarions swell;

Olifant’s voice resounds above the rest;

The thought of Roland draws tears from all the French.


The Invitation

Parable of the Wedding Feast. Russian icon.
Parable of the Wedding Feast. Russian icon.


The Invitation

George Herbert


Come ye hither All, whose taste

Is you waste;

Save your cost, and mend your fare.

Gd is here prepar’d and drest,

And the feast,

God, in whom all dainties are.


Come ye hither All, whom wine

Doth define,

Naming you not to your own good:

Weep what you have drunk amiss,

And drink this,

Which before ye drink is blood.


Come ye hither All, whom pain

Doth arraign,

Bringing all your sins to sight:

Taste and fear not: God is here

In this cheer,

And on sin doth cast the fright.


Come ye hither All, whom joy

Doth destroy,

While ye graze without your bounds:

Here is joy that drowneth quite

Your delight,

As a flood the lower grounds.


Come ye hither All, whose love

Is your dove,

And exalts you to the sky:

Here is love, which having breath

Ev’n in death,

After death can never die.


Lord, I have invited all

And I shall

Still invite, still call to thee:

For it seems but just and right

In my sight,

Where is All, there All should be.


The Russian icon portrays the parable of the great banquet told by Jesus in Luke 14:15-24, and alluded to in George Herbert’s poem.

Cologne Cathedral {The Story of Art}

Birth of Christ. Cologne Cathedral. 1280.

“[W]e must realize how great the possibilities were that opened up before the artists as soon as they finally discarded all ambition to represent things as we see them… And as the artist could dispense with an illusion of space or dramatic action he could arrange his figures on purely ornamental lines. Painting was indeed on the way to becoming a form of writing in pictures; but this return to more simplified methods of representation gave the artist of the Middle Ages a new freedom to experiment with more complex forms of composition… Without these methods the teachings of the Church could never have been translated into visible shape.

“As with forms so with colors. As the artists no longer felt obliged to study and imitate the real gradations of shades that occur in nature they were free to choose any color they liked for their illustrations. The bright gold and luminous blues of their goldsmiths’ works, the intense colors of their book illuminations, the glowing red and deep greens of their stained glass windows show that these master put their independence of nature to good use. It was this freedom from the need to imitate the natural world that was to enable them to convey the idea of the supernatural.”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 9: The Church Militant,” The Story of Art, 15th edition

Lindisfarne Gospels {The Story of Art}

page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. 700.

“The various Teutonic tribes, the Goths, the Vandals, the Saxons, the Danes and the Vikings, who swept through Europe raiding and pillaging, were considered barbarians by those who valued Greek and Roman achievements in literature and art. In a sense they certainly were barbarians, but this need not mean that they had no feeling for beauty, no art of their own. They had skilled craftsmen experienced in finely wrought metalwork, and excellent woodcarvers… They loved complicated patterns which included the twisted bodies of dragons, or birds mysteriously interlaced…

“The monks and missionaries of Celtic Ireland and Saxon England tried to apply the traditions of these northern craftsmen to the tasks of Christian art… [T]he most amazing monuments to their success are some of the manuscripts made in England and Ireland during the seventh and eighth centuries.”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 8: Western Art in the Melting Pot,” The Story of Art, 15th edition

Basilica Mosaic {The Story of Art}

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. AD. 520.

“Pope Gregory the Great… reminded the [Christians] who were against all paintings that many members of the Church could neither read nor write, and that, for the purpose of teaching them, these images were as useful as the pictures in a picture-book are for children, ‘Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read,’ he said…

“But it is clear that the type of art which was thus admitted was of a rather restricted kind. If Gregory’s purpose was to be served, the story had to be told as clearly and simply as possible, and anything that might divert from this main and sacred aim should be omitted.

“At first glance, such a picture looks rather stiff and rigid. There is nothing of the mastery of movement and expression which was the pride of Greek art… If the picture looks rather primitive to us, it must be because the artist wanted to be simple. The Egyptian ideas about the importance of clarity had returned with great force because of the stress which the Church laid on clarity. But the forms which the artists used in this new attempt were not the simple forms of primitive art, but the developed  forms of Greek painting. Thus Christian art of the Middle Ages became a curious mixture of primitive and sophisticated methods.”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 6: A Parting of Ways,” The Story of Art, 15th edition

Trajan’s Column {The Story of Art}

Trajan's column (detail). Rome, Italy. A.D. 114.

“Another new task which the Romans set the artists revived a custom which we know from the ancient Orient. They, too, wanted to proclaim their victories and to tell the stories of their campaigns. Trajan, for instance, erected a huge column to show a whole picture chronicle of his war and victories in Dacia (the modern Romania). There we see the Roman legionaries embarking, encamping and fighting. All the skill and achievements of centuries of Greek art were used in these feats of war reporting. But the importance which Romans attached to accurate rendering of all details, and to a clear narrative which would impress the feats of the campaign on the stay-at-homes, rather changed the character of art. The main aim was no longer that of harmony, beauty or dramatic expression. The Romans were a matter-of-fact people…”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 5: World Conquerors,” The Story of Art, 15th edition

Laocoön and His Sons {The Story of Art}

Laocoön and His Sons. 25 B.C.

“The fact is probably that by this time, the period of Hellenism, art had largely lost its old connection with magic and religion. Artists became interested in the problems of their craft for its own sake, and the problem of how to represent such a dramatic contest [of Lacoön and the snakes] with all its movement, its expression and its tension, was just the type of task which would test an artist’s mettle.”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 4: The Realm of Beauty,” The Story of Art, 15th edition

Tombstone of Hegeso {The Story of Art}

Grave of Hegeso. Athens, Greece. 420 B.C

“Every Greek work from that great period [from 7th to 5th century B.C.] shows… wisdom and skill in the distribution of figures, but what the Greeks of the time valued even more was something else: the newfound freedom to represent the human body in any position or movement could be used to reflect the inner life of the figures represented. We hear from one of his disciples that this is what the great philosopher Socrates, who had himself been trained as a sculptor, urged artists to do. They should represent the ‘workings of the soul’ by accurately observing the way ‘feelings affected the body in action.’”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 3: The Great Awakening,” The Story of Art, 15th edition

Tomb of Nebamum {The Story of Art}

Tomb of Nebamum. Thebis, Egypt. 1450 B.C.

“[A] combination of geometric regularity and keen observation of nature is characteristic of all Egyptian art. We can study it best in the reliefs and paintings that adorned the wall of the tomb. The word ‘adorned,’ it is true, may hardly fit an art which was meant to be seen by no one but the dead man’s soul. In fact, these works were not meant to be enjoyed. They, too, were meant to ‘keep alive’…

“[L]ooking at them for the first time, one may find them rather bewildering. The reason is that the Egyptian painters had quite a different way from ours of representing real life. Perhaps this is connected to the different purpose their paintings had to serve. What mattered most was not prettiness but completeness. So they did not set out to sketch nature as it appeared to them from any fortuitous angle. They drew from memory, according to strict rules which ensured that everything that had to go into the picture would stand out in perfect clarity. Their method, in fact, resembled that of the map-makers than that of the painter…

“Everything had to be represented from its most characteristic angle… It must not be thought that Egyptian artists thought that human beings looked like that. They merely followed a rule which allowed them to include everything in the human form that they considered important. Perhaps this strict adherence to the rule had something to do with their magic purpose. For how could a man with his arm ‘foreshortened’ or ‘cut off’ bring or receive the required offerings to the dead?”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 2: Art for Eternity,” The Story of Art, 15th edition

Cave of Lascaux {The Story of Art}

Cave of Lascaux

“[W]e are not likely to understand the art of the past if we are quite ignorant of the aims it had to serve. The further we go back in history, the more definite but also the more strange are the aims which art was supposed to serve… We call these people ‘primitive’ not because they are simpler than we are—their processes of thought are often more complicated than ours—but because they are closer to the state from which mankind once emerged. Their huts are there to shelter them from the rain, wind and sunshine and the spirits which produce them; images are made to protect them against other powers which are, to them, as real as the forces of nature. Pictures and statues, in other words, are used to work magic.

“Many of [these] artists’ works are meant to play a part in… strange rituals, and what matters then is not whether the sculpture or painting is beautiful by our standards, but whether it ‘works,’ that is to say, whether it can perform the required magic…

“[Many proofs] of tribal skill should warn us against the belief that their work looks odd because they cannot do any better. It is not their standard of craftsmanship which is different than ours, but their ideas. It is important to realize this from the outset, because the whole story of art is not a story of progress in technical proficiency, but a story of changing ideas and requirements.”

Ernst E. Gombrich, “Chapter 1: Strange Beginnings,” The Story of Art, 15th edition