Y is for York

Queen Elizabeth of York, painter unknown, which is typical. Photo from wikimedia.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious by this summer sun of York…

Opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III

Meanwhile in the north… not all of the Renaissance happened in Italy.

Elizabeth of York was glorious summer, indeed. She was the daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother to kings–and queens. As Alison Weir says, in her fabulous biography of this fascinating linchpin of history:

Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial, although in a less chauvinistic age, it would, by right, have been more so.

Alison Weir, Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World

In other words, if she’d been more of Penthesilea type, a bit more Eleanor of the Aquitaine and a bit less Jane Bennett, then maybe she’d have been Queen Elizabeth I. Or, maybe she’d have been thrown in the tower with her brothers. Hard to say.

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X is for X-Chair

It really was called an X-chair. It was also called the Dante or Dantesca chair, the Luther chair, and the Savonarola chair. The last name is the craziest; there really was a Savonarola, who played a pivotal part in the history of one city. But he had nothing to do with the chair. Imagine, if you will, the Rasputin spatula!

We’re nearing the end of the alphabet. Dots will be connected.

The Dante chair, photo from grandvoyageitaly.com.

Simple, But Unbending Design

The simple design of the folding camp chair had been discovered early on in civilization terms. The Egyptians had them, and the Romans used them extensively, especially in military campaigns. A simple-X design that folded in the middle, sometimes also called faldstools. Perfect for those Charlemagne-era banquets, where you have to feed all the thanes and earls after they pledge fealty and argue about how to fend off the thanes and earls of the ruler across the border. Also handy at Red Weddings.

Medieval faldstool, like your folding campstool only centuries old. Photo from wikipedia.

The Renaissance twist was to build the chairs from sturdier pieces of wood. However, these did not bend and instead sported elaborate carvings on the back, arms, and legs. The seat would be a sturdy piece of leather covered by a cushion. The place where the legs intersect was called a “boss.”

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W is for Window Painting

Cosmé Tura, Virgin & Child 1453. Photo from wikimedia.

First of all, on the surface which I am going to paint, I draw a rectangle of whatever size I want, which I regard as an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen.

Leon Battista Alberti

Fenestra aperta. The window to the outside. It seems such a simple idea to paint light falling into a room, a mirror on the wall, or a landscape through a window. But it was new in the Renaissance. Windows themselves were changed, and the new technology and advances in understanding of mathematics spilled into painting.

STEM becomes Art

Alberti—architect, philosopher, and artist—was as famous for his ideas as his creations. But his idea about painting through the window inspired many of the painters who came after, from Da Vinci to Raphael. He was helping create the new idea of perspective, to help artists think of their canvas as a reflection of the world outside. But to be able to use that idea required a simple thing: the ability to see through the window.

Enter the Venetian glass makers: the guild, the island of Murano, sequestered and jealously guarding their secrets. I’ve mentioned before that the glass makers were a monopoly. The artisans were wealthy, but you could not leave the guild. Assassins were dispatched if a glass maker left with the secrets. Glass making technology improved significantly the early Renaissance, often shown in museums as elegant and sophisticated glass objects from Murano. But, just as significantly, the technology led to thinner, clearer glass–for windows. Everywhere.

Murano glass, revered for delicacy, also would lead to better windows. Photo by kajmeister.
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