Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 20 April 2020

The use of colour in the Middle Ages

One of the things one tries to bring home to people when showing them medieval castles and, even more so, churches is how colourful they would have been. What we see today are often mere husks of the decoration that enriched these buildings, and whilst medieval textiles and clothing survives in surprising quantities any collection of old clothes can look faded, be it six months, six years or six centuries old. 

Today film and television seems overly much to  clothe the people and places of the middle ages in shades of grey and black ( ironically one of the most expensive colours available in the past ), of faded greens and browns and all other variants down to mud. Dingy grunge seems the order of the day to the wardrobe department. Medieval manuscripts by contrast record a world of colour in dress and so do the surviving remains of painted decoration for buildings. This should not be dismissed as garish or crude - that is not suggested by the overwhelming number of surviving manuscripts or stained glass.

These points are well set out and handsomely illustrated in a short and succinct online piece from five years ago by James B Shannon which can be seen here.

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