… is slowly creeping its way onto these pages …

Let’s start with a word or two about the images in the header.

The feline is a rather unusual use of a cat in art, namely as heraldic emblem on the tombstone of a minor German noblememan, one Ritter Erasmus II von Laiming (†1406). On this kind of upright grave slab, a tumba, the cat is sitting on top of a cushion resting on an armorial helmet which is in turn worn by a lion. The cat, generally silver or white, appeared frequently in the early heraldry of the Laiming family, until this domestic feline was augmented by a captive or caged lion – interestingly enough, the cat is here on the tumba superior to the royal lion. The tumba was made by Hans Heider of Salzburg, and is now located in the cloisters of Kloster Seeon on the Chiemsee, Bavaria.

The castle is, of course, there to represent one of the main stereotypical views of the Middle Ages. Ask any small child about the Middle Ages, and castles will be up there with knights and dragons, so strongly embedded in contemporary culture is this ‘romantic’ idea of the Middle Ages (derived, via 18th and 19th century revivals, from the not just etymologically similar romances of the medieval period itself). This one shows the alcazar of Segovia, a building with a few medieval remnants embedded in its fabric, but essentially a nineteenth-century (re)creation in the spirit of Viollet le Duc. As a building it literally screams ‘castle’ at you, the same way that Ludwig II’ of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein does, or Walt Disney’s fairytale one. Such hyper-castles may stand visually for the debate around what actually is deemed to be ‘heritage’ (see the Research pages here on this site for more on this topic), and then additionally the question of whose heritage do we mean.

The image on the right is just one among hundreds depicting medieval disabled people. This one was chosen pretty much at random from my collection. Here St James is shown leading a group of pilgrims towards an otherwise unidentified Franciscan saint. The painting is Sienese school, from a predella made by Giovanni di Paolo in the 1430s, and now in a private collection (but you can find out more about it in the exhibition catalogue Paintings in Renaissance Siena 1420-1500, by Christiansen, Kanter and Strehlke, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988). Precisely because in terms of depicting the disabled there is nothing extraordinary about it I have selected this one – more on the mundaneity of such imagery at a later date.