About the reasons of the presence of symbolical meanings in ancient artworks.

As you can easily notice, in this website you find descriptions of medieval iconographies and frequent quotations and underlinings of cosmological meanings in ancient artworks.

Of course, in this short outline, we are not able to give an exhaustive and complete explanation about the deep reasons of the cosmological references in the medieval artistic production so, we can only suggest to English readers interested in this subject to get the translation of Il simbolismo cosmico del tempio (The symbolical meaning of the temple) with one of the some translators online like Babelfish.

It seems anyway to be necessary saying a few words about the basic principles because cosmological symbolism is a typical characteristic of what was painted, sculpted and built during the Middle Age; for this reason we’ll try to deal with the grounds because they followed an extremely ancient tradition concerning the sacred art.

Trying to make an extreme synthesis of some aspects of this tradition, we can say that it is connected with the need to recall the divine "Presence" of the god (or, of God) in a particular space or environment that is assigned to be a "sacred space" that’s, the seat (the "house") of the god (or of God) in that specific context.

Of course, since the same concept of divinity is related to the idea of "absolute "that means "what exists for ever and everywhere" - , it goes without saying that the divine presence cannot be circumscribed or delimited by the dimensions of Space and Time.

This kind of considerations brought the ancient artists and builders to express themselves with symbols forming complete cosmologies. In this way they recalled the theme of the "absolute" ("for ever and everywhere" as said above) pointing out a delimited space as "sacred space"; that would be, in a symbolic dimension, "behind the space and the time".

So, many peculiar aspects of the ancient medieval heritage can be considered just consequences of the need of a really "sacred" art and architecture.

As far as the Christian Middle Age is concerned, we can notice that the specific Christian moral meaning is consciously laid upon and added to the original cosmological symbolism and we can say that, in this way, the Christian art receives the principles of the ancient sacred heritage and gives them a new Christian sense.

So, quoting a sample that’s already been dealt with on this website, we see how the typical iconography of the two opposite peacocks (daily course of the sun in the sky) can be identified, from a Christian point of view, with the souls (St. Augustine, about the peacoks) ascending to the heaven and escaping from the temptation of the sin represented by the siren (the lower world).

Nevertheless, the same fact that

1)the peacocks are just two, that they are opposite each other and that they are represented ascending the arch of the sky,

2) while the siren is keeping her tails over the head, making an arch herself,

points out that the cosmological meaning and its connections with the ancient tradition are still well present in this iconography and -although in a Christian point of view - there is clear awareness of this.

Since the XIVth centuries onward we see the cosmological references in architecture, sculpture and painting gradually disappearing until when, during the Renaissaince, the connections with the ancient tradition will be evoked and considered in an intellectual dimension but, as far as the real experience of artists and builders is concerned, they were actually lost.

Carlo Valdameri

Translation by the author

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