Images of Adventure
Ywain in the Visual ArtsBook - 1995
Modern audiences are most likely to encounter Yvain and other Arthurian characters in literature. We read Chr#65533;tien de Troyes's Yvain or Hartmann von Aue's Iwein , and easily slip into the assumption that during the Middle Ages the title character existed primarily, or even exclusively, in these canonical texts. James A. Rushing, Jr. contends, however, that many times the number of people who heard or read Chr#65533;tien or Hartmann must have known the Ywain story through the varieties of second-hand narration, hearsay, and conversation that we may call secondary orality. And man other people would have known the story through its visual representations.
Exploring the complex relationships between literature and the visual arts in the Middle Ages, Images of Adventure: Ywain in the Visual Arts examines pictorial representations of the story of Ywain, knight of the Round Table, from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries. Of the images Rushing studies, only those found in the manuscripts of Chr#65533;tien's Yvain are placed in any obvious relation with a written text, and not even they can be construed as straightforward illustrations. Images of Ywain are presented without any textual anchor in the thirteenth-century wall paintings from Schmalkalden in eastern German and Rodenegg Castle in the South Tyrol; on the rich embroidery sewn in the fourteenth century for the patrician Malterer family of Freiburg; and in a group of English misericords that show Ywain caught in a moment of high adventure and perhaps comic embarrassment.
"Pictures," according to Pope Gregory the Great, "are the literature of the laity." Navigating between the traditional disciplines of literary study and art history, Images of Adventure offers at once a detailed catalog of Ywain images, a series of close "readings" of works of art, and a concrete sense of what Gregory's oft-quoted statement may actually have meant in practice.