Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Happenstance and the luck of incompetence

The picture I use of the dancing skeletons for the top of my blog is a drawing I drew a long time ago, back in the late eighties, I'd guess.

It's a copy of the Ars Moriendi, the Dance of Death, from the Nuremberg Chronicles, which I studied for my BA dissertation on incunabula and illuminated manuscripts. I'm no artist, however, and when I got to the feet of the chap on the left I realised I'd run out of paper...

Rather than start again, like any self-respecting copyist, I improvised and shifted his left leg up and to the right, and his right leg likewise. Remarkably, I think the effect is to make my version better: it really does look like they're moving. It was a total fluke, fashioned by my incompetence at draughtsmanship, but I've always been rather fond of it.

And this is the original, from the magnificent Nuremberg Chronicles of 1493. It's a very important work, not least because it is essentially the first travel guide ever published. It included block illustrations of real-life scenes from Nuremberg and elsewhere. Until then, illustrations had largely been inventions, but the Nuremberg Chronicles give us the chance to see cityscapes as they really were.

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