REVIEW: The Fantasy of the Middle Ages by Larisa Grollemond
This abundantly illustrated book is an illuminating exploration of the impact of medieval imagery on three hundred years of visual culture.
From the soaring castles of Sleeping Beauty to the bloody battles of Game of Thrones, from Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings to mythical beasts in Dungeons & Dragons, and from Medieval Times to the Renaissance Faire, the Middle Ages have inspired artists, playwrights, filmmakers, gamers, and writers for centuries. Indeed, no other historical era has captured the imaginations of so many creators.
This volume aims to uncover the many reasons why the Middle Ages have proven so flexible—and applicable—to a variety of modern moments from the eighteenth through the twenty-first century. These “medieval” worlds are often the perfect ground for exploring contemporary cultural concerns and anxieties, saying much more about the time and place in which they were created than they do about the actual conditions of the medieval period. With over 140 color illustrations, from sources ranging from thirteenth-century illuminated manuscripts to contemporary films and video games, and a preface by Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton, The Fantasy of the Middle Ages will surprise and delight both enthusiasts and scholars.
This publication accompanies an exhibition of the same title presented in June to September of 2022 at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
The lavishly illustrated book shows the ways that the middle ages have been interpreted or reimagined over the centuries beginning with illuminated manuscripts of the actual age through to, among other things, 19th century Gothic Revival architecture, modern “Game of Thrones” costumes, and various Japanese Manga series in order to fit the views of the times in which they were created. What has been mainly, but not totally, shown as a Eurocentric view of the years from 500-1500 is now being expanded, both geographically and culturally, in stage, screen, music, or a Ren Faire near you.
Scholars discuss how various aspects of the medieval world such as knights and princesses, King Arthur, jousting and combat, and costumes and song have been and are being depicted using various examples – historical and modern – to illustrate. Among these are a Psalter from thirteenth century Germany, a “Star Wars” poster, Disney World’s Cinderella’s Castle, costume sketches from Hollywood epics and Royal Ballet productions, and “tableaux vivant” style reenactment photographs taken by late Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
I found myself drifting towards looking at the varied illustrations and skimming the accompanying discussions. While billed as “An Epic Journey through Imaginary Medieval Worlds,” this is more a pop culture sampling rather than a rigorous, scholarly examination. But the photos are marvelous. B-