The Middle Ages are suddenly cool again


The Middle Ages have long been history’s renegade centuries. Deemed awful enough to be nicknamed the “Dark Ages,” the years after the fall of the Roman Empire are commonly thought of as a backward era of cultural degradation, a time during which Western culture died, until it was reborn during the Renaissance, and life was switched on with the Enlightenment.

But that’s not entirely true: The Middle Ages was a culturally curious and unique period but not entirely backwards—and the internet has taken notice. As of late, visual references to the Middle Ages (and, to a lesser extent, Renaissance) have been cropping up on Twitter and Tumblr.

The discovery that there were people of color featured in art from the 16th century (and earlier) spawned the Tumblr “People of Color in European Art History.” As its author, Malisha Dewalt, told NPR:

Miniature from Psalter, circa 1240.

My purpose in creating this blog is to address common misconceptions that People of Color did not exist in Europe before the Enlightenment, and to emphasize the cognitive dissonance in the way this is reflected in media produced today.

Others, are taking a more lighthearted approach to medieval art. A few Twitter accounts are making use of the unusual iconography as commentary of modern day problems:

Then there are the popular (and hilarious) Bayeux Tapestry-inspired memes:


In between the serious and facetious is the work of some artists that are working by juxtaposing a medieval aesthetic with more current iconography. Street artist Kai, one of them, portrays Hip Hop stars as medieval kings:

William Leonards Robert II (Art by Kai)
Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 2.16.36 PM
Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniells, and Jason Mizell (2010) (Art by Kai)

Graphic designer and artist Cecilia Azcarate also mixes modern and medieval in a surprising way—by pointing out uncanny similarities between contemporary and medieval design:

From the series, “Ikea beforesixteen.”
From the series “Emoji fun.” (Art by Cecilia Azcarate)

Azcarate is interested in the similarities between hip hop and medieval aesthetics, which she explores in her Tumblr b4-16:

Left: Jan van Eyck. Ghent Altarpiece detail. c. 1432. Right: The ATL Twins. (Art by Cecilia Azcarate)
Left: detail of Virgin and Child Enthroned with Scenes from the Life of the Virgin<br />Morata Master. Spain, 15th century. Right: Future. (Art by Cecilia Azcarate)
Left: detail of Christ Blessing surrounded by a Donor Family.<br />Unknown German Painter 1560. Right: 2 Chainz (Art by Cecilia Azcarate)
Left: Reliquary arm of St. Valentine 14th century, Swiss. Right: 2 Chainz. (Art by Cecilia Azcarate)

Indeed, the Middle Ages appear to be setting the standard for modern-day royalty:

Left: Perugia Altarpiece left panel by Fra Angelico, 1437. Right: Kanye West and Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr at Kim & Kanye’s wedding. May 24, 2014 Florence Italy.
Left: From the series "The Kardashian Crop." Right, the actual Kardashian crop.
Left: From the series “The Kardashian Crop.” Right, the actual Kardashian crop. (Images via Cecilia Azcarate and Instagram.)
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