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New art history book captures daily life in the Middle Ages

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Most music lovers seek to go beyond their favourite band’s greatest hits – as that’s often where the hidden gems are found. The same can be said for art from the Middle Ages.

Adam S. Cohen, an associate professor in the University of Toronto’s department of art history in the Faculty of Arts & Science, joined professors Jill Caskey of the department of visual studies at U of T Mississauga and Linda Safran of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, to create the textbook Art and Architecture of the Middle Ages: Exploring a Connected World.

The book, released last month, shows students a broad diversity of places and peoples in the medieval world, as well as a greater variety of works – moving well beyond the usual cathedrals and castles.

Cohen says the idea for the textbook stemmed from a frustration with existing resources, which tended to present the art and architecture of the Middle Ages through a very traditional lens.

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“We thought what was needed was to make this already exciting subject even more compelling to students today,” he says.

Antemihrab dome, Great Mosque, Córdoba, Spain ca. 961–76.

Spanning over 12 centuries of artistic creation from about 300 to 1400 CE, and covering Europe, western Asia and North Africa, the textbook includes more than 450 colour illustrations of sculptures, pottery, manuscripts, textiles, paintings and buildings. The artifacts are of both a religious and secular nature, covering several faiths, including Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.

Adam S. Cohen and the Life of Saint Radegunde, ca. 1100. 

“For myself, I thought I should be teaching Islamic art within the presentation of medieval art,” says Cohen. “So I wanted a textbook that I could use for my own classes that would be more global, more inclusive.”

Cohen, Caskey and Safran worked on the 400-page book for six years. It involved countless hours of research, collecting images, photographing artifacts, as well as commissioning architectural drawings and maps (made by U of T graduate students).

The result is a wide spectrum of objects and art that paints a more realistic picture of people’s daily lives and activities.

“Textbooks in any field tend to reproduce the traditional roster of great monuments and they get trotted out year after year,” says Cohen. “We wanted to respect that tradition in our discipline so that many of the greatest hits would still be there. But we also wanted to shake it up a little and put in new things – things people didn’t traditionally look at that reflect the experience and the built environment of people in the Middle Ages.

“Depending on where you lived, you only saw great cathedrals once or twice in your life. That’s not what most people experienced. So we wanted to broaden the field and show more of what was out there at the time – more everyday things.”

In addition to the images, the book’s introduction provides helpful context to better understand the artifacts’ relevance and meaning.

Mina’i bowl with couple in garden, ca. 1180–1220. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

“We tried to lay out some concepts about the different approaches we use in looking at any object in the history of art,” says Cohen. “What’s represented? What’s the style? Who was responsible for the thing looking the way it did? How was it received? [Who] was the audience? If it’s on the altar in a French church, that’s one audience, if it’s a bath house in Jordan, that’s a very different audience.”

As well, each chapter offers a more detailed description of two artifacts.

“For example, we look at a 13th-century French church and say, ‘This is what some of the images represent. This is what the patron was trying to get at in rebuilding his church. These are some of the stylistic changes that were introduced at this particular church that would go on to have great currency in medieval France. Here’s some of the experiences that pilgrims would have had when they came to that church.’

“We hope that doing this twice per chapter will remind people that every object could be treated at this depth, because each object has so many layers.”

Mantle of Roger II: The precious mantle embroidered with gold, pearls and cloisonné-enamelled plaques was part of the coronation set of robes used at the coronations of the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Kaiserliche Schatzkammer, Vienna. 

To complement the book, Cohen and his co-authors also created a dynamic website that extends the book’s materials even further. It includes resources such as a glossary, maps, timelines, photo essays, and a podcast “Medieval Art Matters,” where medieval art and architecture experts share their insights and expertise.

“The website is a way to amplify what we show,” says Cohen. “We know that students still like a traditional textbook, but books have limitations – you can only have so many pages and so many pictures.

Belt buckle and shoulder clasps, Sutton Hoo, early seventh century. British Museum, London.

“And we could start doing additional things like text translations, things that couldn’t be captured in a book effectively. It’s an opportunity to go bigger in different directions.”

Cohen says he can’t wait to use this book in his classes when he returns from sabbatical in 2024. But his co-editors will be cracking it open with their classes this month.

“Now we feel like we’ve got a textbook that introduces students to the material in a responsible way that reflects our concerns in the 21st century, not the concerns that were shaped in the 1950s and ‘60s.”

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Criss Bellini Art Fans Urge for Pop-Up Gallery – E! NEWS

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Since the brand’s launch in 2020, Bellini’s sales have skyrocketed, selling over $1 million in its first year and exceeding its sales in 2021, in 2022, with over 2 million sales in euros. Seeing this, it is clear that art sales are booming, and people want to see more of his unique pieces.

However, because Bellini’s website is the only place to view and purchase his art, the public has begun to request a gallery or a pop-up gallery where they can go visit Bellinis’ work and see it for themselves.

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Wish you could set fire to the last 3 years? A huge flaming art installation is coming to Toronto – CBC.ca

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3D digital rendering of The Burn, an art installation. Visible is a brassy dodecahedron adorned with perforated patterns. It appears to glow from within and floats above still dark water.
Rendering of The Burn, 2023. (Javid JAH)

What if you could just set fire to the past? Would you feel liberated — free to start fresh in 2023, flush with feelings of love and peace and other things you could file under positive vibes?

The City of Toronto launched an interactive art project last Thursday called The Burn, a seven-week initiative that aims to offer a moment of respite in the wake of COVID-19, and it comes to a climax on March 11 — the third anniversary of the pandemic. 

On that date, a monumental art installation will go up at Nathan Phillips Square, and the centrepiece involves three towering steel sculptures that’ll be set aflame for 24 hours — fires that will keep on burning with a little help from the public, who’ll be invited to add bits of (supplied) wood to the blaze.

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It’s a scenario that sounds significantly more thoughtful and controlled to hear Roger Mooking describe it. Mooking is the lead creative on the project, and he talks about The Burn as a chance to heal and grow as a collective. In short, it’s bigger than an all-day bonfire. 

Mooking says he began thinking about the work in 2021, prompted by the “overwhelming melancholy” of lockdown. “I recognized that I was not the only one, that we were in this kind of collective consciousness globally, and we all needed to heal,” he tells CBC Arts. And with The Burn, he’s inviting Torontonians to actively begin that healing process. 

The first phase of the project is already underway, and involves a series of interactive sculptures — significantly smaller vessels than the ones that’ll go up at Nathan Phillips Square. They’re being stationed at public sites around the GTA as part of a tour that launched Jan. 19 in three locations: Fort York National Historic Site, the Toronto Zoo and Twist — Mooking’s restaurant at Toronto Pearson International Airport. 

Here he is, testing it out in Terminal 1.

As of writing, people can find The Burn at three new sites through Feb. 1: Spadina Museum, Native Canadian Centre and the Market Gallery at St. Lawrence Market.

“We want to make sure that we’re hitting every corner of the GTA: north, east, south, west, central — all the nooks and crannies,” says Mooking. Twenty-one locations are currently scheduled for the tour, and a full map and schedule can be found through the city’s website. 

Through March 11, visitors will find metallic dodecahedrons at different destinations — sculptures created by local artist Javid JAH. And under each sculpture is a bowl of wooden balls: spheres the size of marbles that have been carved out of cedar. 

Photo of a brassy dodecahedron adorned with perforated ornate designs. It's mounted on a wooden stick. A wood bowl full of small wooden spheres rests below the polyhedron. In the background, two step-and-repeats printed with extensive instructions for how to engage with the artwork, are visible.
Find vessels like this one throughout the GTA. This shot was taken during The Burn’s install at Fort York National Historic Site. (CBC Arts)

Take a ball, and you’ll be asked to stop and think — to sit with your feelings, really. In the language of The Burn, you’ll be “setting an intention.” Is there something weighing on you: an emotion you wish you could change or simply set free? Once you’ve identified that feeling, you’re asked to drop your ball inside the sculpture. It’s a moment for “letting go,” so to speak. 

“People are carrying so many things, especially coming through this COVID time,” says Mooking. “It’s a very simple thing … that can be very, very emotional.”

A multihyphenate known for his success as a chef, TV personality (Man Fire Food), and musician (Bass is Base), Mooking’s presented participatory art projects for the city before. Just last August, to coincide with Emancipation Month programming at Toronto history museums, he launched Read(In), an interactive installation that also appeared in multiple locations throughout the GTA. 

To bring The Burn to life, project curator Umbereen Inayet connected him with collaborators JAH (who designed and produced the installation’s ornate sculptural elements) and artist Catherine Tammaro, a Wyandot Elder who served as an advisor, particularly concerning the project’s spiritual bent. Says Mooking: “There’s a deep history of Indigenous cultures using fire and water for cleansing and preservation and healing, so we needed that guidance to make sure that we were respecting that tradition.”

The wooden balls collected at each tour site will eventually fuel the fire on March 11, and Mooking says those attending the activation at Nathan Phillips Square will also have the opportunity to set an intention. At the big event, visitors will send their cedar spheres down a chute, directly into the flames. And when the fire’s extinguished, all the ash that’s left behind will be collected for use in city gardens. “We’re really trying to emulate the cycle of life: from the spark to the ash,” says Mooking. “We’re looking to carry the spiritual intentions from everybody in the city to fortify our Earth.”

The city says it will be announcing more public projects that respond to COVID’s impact on residents. Like The Burn, they’re part of a program called Stronger Together that launched in late November. More programming is expected to be revealed in February.

In the first few days of The Burn’s cross-city tour, Mooking says he was receiving reports from the participating venues. Folks are interacting with the sculptures already, he says. “It’s been cathartic, I hope. … I can’t wait to see how much healing we’re able to do when we really roll out the full scale of this at Nathan Phillips Square.”

Full event details, including a map of The Burn’s tour locations, can be found on the project’s website.

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Art is everywhere this weekend

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Saturday, Jan. 28

2023 ArtsEverywhere Festival

Multiple locations; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

From film screenings to drag brunches and book fairs, the free annual festival has something for everyone. Learn more here.

Winterstock

Royal City Studios; 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Join Royal City Studios for a live music tribute to Woodstock 1969; attendees are encouraged to wear their best 60s style clothes. Get tickets here.

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Music Weekends

Western Burgers & Steaks; 2:00 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The genre-bouncing Probable Cause will perform live at The Western, pay-by-donation. Doors open at 2 p.m., show starts at 2:30.

Sunday, Jan. 29

2023 ArtsEverywhere Festival

River Run Centre; 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The last day of the free festival features a lecture and a film screening, both at the River Run Centre. Learn more here.

Music Weekends

Onyx Nightclub; 2p.m. to 5 p.m.

Join SHEBAD for their live concert at Onyx. It’s family-friendly and pay-by-donation. Doors open at 2 p.m., show starts at 2:45.

OHL Hockey

2 p.m.: Guelph Storm vs. Sudbury Wolves, Sleeman Centre

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