Medieval Craftsmen: A Window on their World
with Tim Porter
Thursday 28 February 2019
The talk to the February 2019 meeting of the VEHS was given by Tim Porter, a self- confessed medieval enthusiast, and entitled “Medieval Craftsmen; a Window on their World”.
Tim first of all defined the precise era on which he would concentrate – namely the millennium from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Reformation: the centuries when the Pope was a major power in the political landscape of Europe. It is from these times that many outstanding examples of the different crafts can still be seen, not least in churches and cathedrals.
Much of our received thinking about such work, Tim suggests, reflects Victorian attitudes emphasising a linear progression. But as an alternative, in order to gain a proper insight into the elite that were the medieval craftsmen, he put forward six possible angles that could be considered to approach the subject : the materials that were used (stone and glass for example), the men (almost universally men), and how they were employed, the tools they used, the chronological developments in their crafts, the ways in which one craft was applicable to another (the cross referencing), and finally the symbolism commonly present in different crafts.
By the use of many illustrations of the 15th century roof bosses in Norwich cathedral and elsewhere, Tim gave an excellent exposition of the necessary skills and techniques apparent in their production, for example the use of the convex shape to produce a three dimensional representation and how the similar skills were later used by Picasso in his very much later works.
Using examples to further illustrate the six approaches, such as the ubiquitous “green man” and the “vine scroll” so often used as a decoration – many from the church at Salle in Norfolk – Tim displayed both a profound knowledge of the skills of medieval craftsmen and some excellent approaches to their study.