Real life?

DSCN0941
Firefly having breakfast!

I am researching part-time for my PhD. This means  I feel I have two lives: my 21st Century ‘real’ life, and my fifteenth century life in Umbria. This blog is going to be largely about the latter, but this morning the former has already entailed my trudging around a very muddy field feeding and mucking out for my three alpacas; Galliano, Razzamataz and Firefly. Knee deep in Kentish clay and mud, with the rain dribbling down my neck, and accompanied by two dogs whose secondary purpose in life is to collect as much mud on their bodies as possible in a short time (the first being entirely food-related), I was not feeling particularly intellectually inspired.

In a good week for my research, the fifteenth century starts to feel more real than the twenty-first. There is, however, plenty about our every-day lives which can contribute to a fuller understanding of the past. The current trend in historical and art historical research towards the recovery of a ‘lived experience’ (Lucy Worsley’s excellent programme  on the christening celebrations for Edward VI at Hampton Court is a first-class example of this) is all about trying to recover the physical detail of being there. And the physical reality of the weather loomed much larger in the fifteenth century than it does now.  Just one example………Raphael probably painted some of his works commissioned for Citta di Castello in the first years of the sixteenth century while he was actually in Perugia, some 55 kilometres south.  Just a short drive now – but more than a day on horseback, and several days for a large cart carrying the resulting three metre tall wooden altarpiece to be placed in the church. And that does not take into account the day that must have been spent wrapping it in something approaching waterproof, (animal skins?) and packing it with padding to prevent damage as the cart bumped along (sheeps wool?) A wet winter, such as the current one, in which the dirt roads would have been churned to

Piccolpasso Piante
Travel through the Umbrian countryside, depicted in Piccolpasso’s sixteenth century topography of Umbria.

mud by traffic, might have made the carriage of the altarpiece impossible for several months. All these things had, as they would now, an implication of time, and therefore cost. This tells us something about how much the patron wanted a particular artist to do the work, and also about how keen the artist was to undertake it.

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