utrecht psalter -Leiden -20

17. December 2014

Utrecht Psalter

The Utrecht Psalter, which is currently owned by the Utrecht University Library, has been nominated for UNESCO's Memory of the World Register

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New study explores friendship as witnessed in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, Siete Partidas and other similar texts from 13th century Iberia

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Bern, The capital of Swizerland

15. December 2014

The Use of Water

Conference March 2015: The Use of Water – practical habits and symbolic customs in the Middle Ages

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Joachim among the Shepherds (detail) 1304-06 Fresco Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

12. December 2014

Boring Medieval Art

Ever fallen asleep in an Italian provincial museum full of Madonnas from the 14th century? We now seem to know that medieval paintings were – perhaps – “boring” compared to what came later

Taddeo gaddi - St John the Evangelist Drinking from the Poisoned Cup. Collezione Vittorio Cini, Venice (Photo in public domain)
Taddeo gaddi – St John the Evangelist Drinking from the Poisoned Cup. Collezione Vittorio Cini, Venice (Photo in public domain)

Digital imaging of paintings has made rapid progress in the last decade as more and more museums agree to open up their collections of photos to the joy of both lay and learned. Now researchers have come to a point where it is possible to perform statistical analysis of a large-scale database of paintings to create a bridge between art and science.

Using digital image processing techniques, a group of scientists have investigated three quantitative measures of images – the usage of individual colours, the variety of colours, and the roughness of the brightness.

Overall, they found a difference in colour usage between classical paintings and photographs, and a significantly lower colour variety in art from the Middle Ages.

The digital images were obtained from the WEB Gallery of Art, which has a searchable database for European paintings and sculptures consisting of over 29,000 pieces ranging from the years 1000 to 1850. Most of the identifiable images contain information of schools, periods, and artists, and are good quality in resolution to apply statistical analysis.

Nature Scientific Report Large-Scale Quantitative Analysis of Painting Arts 07370-f4
Illustrative example of brightness surface. The brightness of each point is considered as its height. (c) An example of a two-point HDC function G(r) on the brightness surface of an image in the inset, a panel painting of Italian painter Taddeo Gaddi (1348–1353) titled “St John the Evangelist Drinking from the Poisoned Cup” (This image is out of copyright.). The horizontal axis indicates the distance r, where a unit is a pixel, between two distinct points on the surface. Red points show the HDC of an original image and blue ones represent that of a randomized image. The slope is approximately 2α~0.28. © CC

In their own words, the scientists have analysed artistic styles “various statistical techniques such as fractal analysis1, the wavelet-based technique, the multi-resolution hidden Markov method, the Fisher kernel based approach, and the sparse coding model,. Recently, these methods have also been applied to other cultural heritages such as and music. Such quantitative analysis is called “stylometry,” which originates from literature analysis and is used to identify characteristic literary styles” (See article for references).

In the present articles (probably the first of many) the researchers have focused on the usage of colours, the variety of painted colours and the roughness of the brightness of images.

These analyses tells us, that while an explosion of colours may be detected from the Early Renaissance and onwards, artists in the middle ages preferred (or were obliged) to limit themselves significantly.

First of all, specific rare pigments and colours were preferred for political (red) and religious (blue) reasons. To this, however, should also be added technical reasons: the techniques of mixing oil colours was not fully developed. To this might be added that specific techniques of painting like chiaroscuro and sfumato were not yet invented or applied. Hence the feeling that medieval paintings might seem rather flat and uninteresting compared to the output of the Renaissance and later.

Perhaps, though, the Middle Ages did produce at least some artists, who were never boring. For instance, who has ever been bored visiting the Capella Scrovegni in Padua with the paintings of Giotto?

In view of such reflections it might  be interesting to get a list of the different artists in the database ranked according to their “boringness”. Perhaps published on the internet?


Large-Scale Quantitative Analysis of Painting Arts
Daniel Kim, Seung-Woo Son & Hawoong Jeong
In: Nature Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 7370 doi:10.1038/srep07370



Magna Carta British Library Cotton MS Augustus II.106

11. December 2014

Magna Carta

2015 England and with it large parts the Anglo-Saxon World is set to celebrate the 800-year anniversary of Magna Carta. A spat of books are in the crucible

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