I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Blogging Aloud: Medievalist Stained Glass Again

Thanks again to all who've posted comments here. I'm currently paralysed with doubt and counter-examples about this, so instead of reading and writing, I thought I'd blog about it some more.

Over the last few days I've watched The Anchoress, the Disney animated Robin Hood and Bergman's Seventh Seal. How's that for a cultural spectrum? No stained glass in any of these, but the conjunction made me think my question might be more about the representation of religion in medievalist film.

The run-down little churches in The Anchoress and Robin Hood are too humble to have stained glass; and yes, as others have remarked, the Seventh Seal features the painting of the dance of death in the church. (Anchoress and Seventh Seal also focus on carvings of the Virgin and Christ, respectively.) Perhaps there is also a visionary moment in The Anchoress where Christine glimpses the Virgin's face? It looks like an outline in stained glass, but it's the tiniest moment: mostly the camera focusses on the carved statue.

Next on my list of things to re-watch are First Knight, Name of the Rose and the Hunchback of Notre Dame (special thanks to Jonathan for this suggestion: that scene where the light comes through the glass and lights up the floor is fantastic for this project!). I also have to try and track down a copy of Andrei Rublev, which I don't know at all. I'm also reading through Nickolas Haydock's Movie Medievalism, which I'm finding immensely helpful. Haydock is making me think I may have been a bit hard on First Knight. I've often used it in teaching as an example of the limit case: how far can you push the Arthur-Lancelot-Guenever plot until it makes no sense?

A Knight's Tale has, as Kerryn and Andrew point out, a scene where Ulrich rides his horse into the cathedral. For me, that film's a classic case of a secular medievalist film that introduces religion only to mock it as hypocritical and irrelevant (Jocelyne tells the priest not to shoosh her then admires his pretty ring when he admonishes her beauty). But what does the glass in those windows show? Had better look at that again, too.

Mostly, medievalist films are not that sympathetic to religion, are they? Seventh Seal persistently exposes the emptiness of the knight's quest for meaning; and the church hardly comes off looking good in any of these movies. The Robin Hood is an exception: it's a sign of Prince John's final descent that he proposes to hang Friar Tuck; while it's the Sheriff's robbing of the poor box that sends the Friar to jail. There's nothing specifically Christian or sacramental about the church, here, but the film's critique is directed entirely at the usurping John and the flattering Sir Hiss.

OK, still thinking, obviously. The scary thing about this project is that I've now remembered I'm much more comfortable talking about written texts, as opposed to visual or cinematic ones. Aaaaaaggghhh.

Here's the relevant portion of Seventh Seal, about half way through this clip:

Update: Just found the CFP for this year's Studies in Medievalism conference. Their theme? Medievalism and Religion.


Andrew Stephenson said...


If you're watching films, save your time and don't bother with A Knight's Tale - the wide shot/blue screen shows no detail at all - just coloured blotches!


Stephanie Trigg said...

Hmmm.. Blotches are kind of the point for me! The reduction of figurative religious images to aesthetic effect. Had better have another look.

stray said...

On this wider theme, what do you think about Kingdom of Heaven? No stained glass (though the aesthetic elements have a lot going on) but very definite setup of organized (read corrupted) religion vs. moral code of knighthood.

Karl Steel said...

Disappointed that SS and Anch didn't pay off. I imagine Meredith Monk's Book of Days won't either.

[one wonders, too, about the absence of religion from Bresson's Lancelot du Lac, given Bresson's own Catholic devotion. and here's one that might pay off? Schichtman and Finke would know whether there's stained glass in it]

a scene where Ulrich rides his horse into the cathedralAlthough I imagine the context in the KnT film is different, I refer you to the Southern German ritual of the Umritt, in which horses were blessed with holy water and ridden into specially designed churches to gaze upon the Host. See Lionel Rothkrug, “Popular Religion and Holy Shrines: Their Influence on the Origins of the German Reformation and Their Role in German Cultural Development,” in Religion and the People, 800-1700, ed. James Obelkevich (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 30⁠.

For other titles, see here and perhaps this will help as well (although it strikes me that both seem, I'm afraid, less than helpful).

lucy tartan said...

In Luc Besson's Joan of Arc movie "The Messenger" , Joan's vision / visitation takes the form of stained glass windows exploding. La Trobe library has the dvd if you have trouble finding it elsewhere.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Miss Tartan, that sounds persactly the kind of thing I need. I may have to make a trip out your way soon. I realise I should have been ordering more of these movies for Baillieu over the years.

I see that Kevin Harty's Reel Middle Ages (1999) describes over 900 medieval films. No shortage of material, then.

Karl, I did kind of think about looking at images, like wall-paintings and icons, etc. but now I think I'll really focus on the glass, for its "cinematic" light, as much as anything, and have found Abbot Suger on the subject. I'm thinking of calling this essay, "Shedding Light on the Dark Ages?", plus sub-title. Too cheesy?

Thanks again, to all who've responded, on blog and off. Will update on progress soon.

Viator said...

Dear Stephanie,

Splendidly interesting project. I'm a recently converted lurker, and now first-time poster, though I see I've come late to the ball; the films and scenes I would have contributed have been mentioned and then some by your army of devoted readers.

Such as I have I give freely, however, and at the moment that commodity in which I am uncharacteristically rich is time. So if you've any remaining viewing homework, I am at your disposal. Assign away!

Karl Steel said...

I'm in no position to comment either way on cheesiness! My freshman project way back when, on Murder in the Cathedral? I called it "Tedium to Te Deum." Oh lord.

The Kevin Harty sounds like a wonderful resource: 900! Wow.

Looking forward to seeing how this project develops.