Artibus et Historiae no. 46 (XXIII)2002, ISSN 0391-9064
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MARTIN BÜCHSEL - Watchful Weariness of the Old Age. Realism as a Means of Rhetoric in the Late Middle Ages
The depiction of 'old age' in late medieval art could be used as rhetorical vocabulary to characterise the four Fathers of the Church, St Benedict or other saints as ascetic, spiritually 'holy men'. The wooden sculpture of Abbot Benedict in the Liebieghaus from the early sixteenth century demonstrates how such realism of 'old age' could be combined with the transitorical moments of pseudo-realism. The energy of his lips and eyes in a face full of crinkles stand in significant contrast with the spirit of an old man.A dramatic scene in ate medieval art could on the other hand often produce some features of old age on a young face, as the images of St John in the Veit Stoß altarpiece in Kraków or the John on Patmos in the woodcut series by Albrecht Dürer show.
The natural connotations of John's youth, 'beauty' and 'peacefulness' stand here in contrast to the dramatic scenes. The same rhetorical vocabulary can be sometimes found in pictures which at first appear like portraits. The tomb sculpture of Rudolf von Scherenberg at the Cathedral of Würzburg shows in reality not the bishop as a well known old person but as a a man of great spirit and with signs of ascetic life of a Father of the Church. The inscriptions support such an interpretation.
The question of the truthfulness of portraits is also discussed in some sculptures by Niclaus Gerhaert. A closer study of the practice of late medieval devotio moderna would help to understand this kind of rhetorical vocabulary.