Interesting Things in Old Paintings

I don’t really want to call this the start of a series, although I have no qualms about designating it as such should future posts warrant the attention, but I ran into something quite interesting today online that reminded me of some other thing I’d seen a long time ago. Both are included here.

The Adoration of the Christ Child, Unknown Flemish Artist, circa 1515

The painting can be seen better at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site, where it lets you zoom in and out of the picture and gives you more information.

I stumbled on a reference to this painting when I was doing a Google search that was really too broad to be of value. People online at Northern Attack were musing about how old people these days have always hated kids these days, and someone made a reference to William the Conqueror. I know I read somewhere, perhaps in a footnote of Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, that one of the earliest examples of personal writing was a letter from a father to a son complaining about how kids these days never took their work seriously. I was too lazy to go into the garage where the books are to dig up the book, and thought I’d find it easily online, but I did not. The second hit, however, was a link to a British Medical Journal article by Roger Dobson (from 2003) about how psychiatrists determined that the painting above was the first representation of a person with Down’s Syndrome in art. The article is more of a news blurb (the beginning of the article is at that link, or you can register for free with the website and read the full article here). The blurb cites a few paragraphs from a DIFFERENT article, published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, that muses on the significance of the inclusion of this person/these people. I’ll copy some of it here:

It is possible that those with milder degrees of mental handicap were not recognised as having what we now call mental retardation; individuals who were perceived as being slightly slow, in contrast to those with severe handicaps, might have been fully integrated into society. In this context, a surviving teen or adult with Down’s syndrome, no life-threatening malformations, and relatively high intellectual function might not have been recognised as sufficiently different to warrant unusual treatment in a social context.

It is interesting to speculate on how life in the Middle Ages was different. If it didn’t take a lot of intellectual ability to get by, there was room for a lot more people in the economy. Prejudices and persecution have always existed, of course, but they change with the era. I have a lot of lofty, vague thoughts drifting through my head on this topic, but I don’t really want to spend the time clarifying them into words. I just like the picture for its portraits.

Then there is this one:

Madonna col Bambino e San Giovannino, Domenico Ghirlandaio (maybe), late 1400s

You maybe have heard about or seen this painting on one of those Are UFOs Real? programs, either on the History or Discover Channels. I first heard about it on Coast to Coast AM, and it’s all over the Internet. The drama is centered on the detail in the background–a guy with his back to the viewer is staring into the sky and shading his eyes, perhaps to look at the object flying above him. The thing is identified variously as a blob of paint or a flying machine. And because there were no flying machines in the late 1400s and people were not nearly imaginative or creative or whimsical enough then to paint a gadget not known yet to exist, the argument goes that it’s an alien spacecraft.

I’m all for pictures of alien spacecrafts in art. I totally dig it. Why not? It’s good to know that there were conspiracy nuts back then, too, unless some pogroms were instigated with that as an excuse. Pogroms are uncool.

Talk about this painting also reminds me of a book by John Fowles called A Maggot. I liked a very large portion of that book, but the big revelation at the end got by me, and thus befuddled me. The book is not about the eggs of flies growing in food… it’s a riff on an antiquated definition of the word that means something along the lines of a bit of something (like a line of music) that you can’t get out of your head. I presume that the story is about whether what the characters experience is a shared delusion, but I can’t really remember the details and by the time I started looking up information about the book online I’d already turned it back in to the library and couldn’t check the details.

That is all I have to say about that. My shower window has opened up (naps just started) and I sure as hell am not going to miss it. I’ve been indulging in a sickness for a couple of days, and the sneezes are nasty and violent and I need to wash with soap.

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