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Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (Essays in Art and Culture)

by Michael Camille

Buy the book: Michael Camille. Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (Essays in Art and Culture)

Release Date: September, 2001

Edition: Paperback

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Buy the book: Michael Camille. Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (Essays in Art and Culture)


Fascinating Exploration of the Margins of Medieval Culture

For readers unfamiliar with the culture of the Middle Ages, it is surprising, and perhaps even disconcerting, to learn that a medieval manuscript of a prayer-book could contain marginal images of human excrement, or that medieval churches were frequently adorned with gargoyles depicting diabolic and uncanny figures. This book by Michael Camille, professor of art history at the University of Chicago, is devoted to explaining these strange "margins" of medieval culture. Camille essentially argues that, while such marginal images could on the face of it be interpreted as subverting the conventions of the dominating center of culture, they ultimately served to reinforce it. As the author puts it on page 127, "the edges of discourse...always return us to the rules of the center." In other words, medieval artists toyed with the margins of culture, with "otherness" and difference, yet ultimately sided with the "good" and the "normal." Interestingly enough, the marginal images which were so typical of the high Middle Ages disappeared at the beginning of the modern age. Camille suggests that the margins lost their function of hinting at the ugly reverse of mainstream culture in an age where the mainstream both asserted itself more strongly, rigorously demarcating "low" from "high" culture, and at the same time dissolved difference in the medium of bourgeois taste. Peasants and drunkards, for example, became the explicit object of a genre called the "grotesque." At the end of this fine book, Camille writes: "art collapsed inwards, to create a more literal and myopic dead-center [devoid of the medieval playfulness], taking with it edges and all" (p. 160).

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