Hot Best Seller

Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages (Wellcome Collection)

Availability: Ready to download

A SUNDAY TIMES HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR 'A triumph' Guardian 'Glorious ... makes the past at once familiar, exotic and thrilling.' Dominic Sandbrook 'A brilliant book' Mail on Sunday Just like us, medieval men and women worried about growing old, got blisters and indigestion, fell in love and had children. And yet their lives were full of miraculous and richly A SUNDAY TIMES HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR 'A triumph' Guardian 'Glorious ... makes the past at once familiar, exotic and thrilling.' Dominic Sandbrook 'A brilliant book' Mail on Sunday Just like us, medieval men and women worried about growing old, got blisters and indigestion, fell in love and had children. And yet their lives were full of miraculous and richly metaphorical experiences radically different to our own, unfolding in a world where deadly wounds might be healed overnight by divine intervention, or the heart of a king, plucked from his corpse, could be held aloft as a powerful symbol of political rule.In this richly-illustrated and unusual history, Jack Hartnell uncovers the fascinating ways in which people thought about, explored and experienced their physical selves in the Middle Ages, from Constantinople to Cairo and Canterbury. Unfolding like a medieval pageant, and filled with saints, soldiers, caliphs, queens, monks and monstrous beasts, it throws light on the medieval body from head to toe - revealing the surprisingly sophisticated medical knowledge of the time in the process.Bringing together medicine, art, music, politics, philosophy and social history, there is no better guide to what life was really like for the men and women who lived and died in the Middle Ages.Medieval Bodies is published in association with Wellcome Collection.


Compare

A SUNDAY TIMES HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR 'A triumph' Guardian 'Glorious ... makes the past at once familiar, exotic and thrilling.' Dominic Sandbrook 'A brilliant book' Mail on Sunday Just like us, medieval men and women worried about growing old, got blisters and indigestion, fell in love and had children. And yet their lives were full of miraculous and richly A SUNDAY TIMES HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR 'A triumph' Guardian 'Glorious ... makes the past at once familiar, exotic and thrilling.' Dominic Sandbrook 'A brilliant book' Mail on Sunday Just like us, medieval men and women worried about growing old, got blisters and indigestion, fell in love and had children. And yet their lives were full of miraculous and richly metaphorical experiences radically different to our own, unfolding in a world where deadly wounds might be healed overnight by divine intervention, or the heart of a king, plucked from his corpse, could be held aloft as a powerful symbol of political rule.In this richly-illustrated and unusual history, Jack Hartnell uncovers the fascinating ways in which people thought about, explored and experienced their physical selves in the Middle Ages, from Constantinople to Cairo and Canterbury. Unfolding like a medieval pageant, and filled with saints, soldiers, caliphs, queens, monks and monstrous beasts, it throws light on the medieval body from head to toe - revealing the surprisingly sophisticated medical knowledge of the time in the process.Bringing together medicine, art, music, politics, philosophy and social history, there is no better guide to what life was really like for the men and women who lived and died in the Middle Ages.Medieval Bodies is published in association with Wellcome Collection.

30 review for Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages (Wellcome Collection)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Beata

    I found this non-fiction informative and insightful as the Author spends time telling us how body parts were perceived during life, how they were cured and how they were treated after death. If you are interested in the truths and myths surrounding organs in the so-called Dark Ages, this book will deliver. Of some information I was aware, however, most was new to me, and as I read HF set in the period, I am sure I will find many references in the novels I will read. The book provides details refe I found this non-fiction informative and insightful as the Author spends time telling us how body parts were perceived during life, how they were cured and how they were treated after death. If you are interested in the truths and myths surrounding organs in the so-called Dark Ages, this book will deliver. Of some information I was aware, however, most was new to me, and as I read HF set in the period, I am sure I will find many references in the novels I will read. The book provides details referring to many aspects of life and death during that period. It shows the ways scientists and scholars went in the search of truth. And it is written is an approachable way that makes this read available to anyone, not just scholars. My only regret is that I listened to the audiobook and was not always able to refer to the visual presentations depicted.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard Newton

    In the category of book as physical object this would gain 5 stars. Beautifully presented and well illustrated, this is a lovely object. The writing is to a high standard, erudite and mostly interesting. Structured around several themes - all taken from parts of the body like heart, hands and feet, the book then describes medieval attitudes, beliefs and behaviours to these parts of the body - or at least that what it claims to do. At times it does this well, but too often the author uses the cha In the category of book as physical object this would gain 5 stars. Beautifully presented and well illustrated, this is a lovely object. The writing is to a high standard, erudite and mostly interesting. Structured around several themes - all taken from parts of the body like heart, hands and feet, the book then describes medieval attitudes, beliefs and behaviours to these parts of the body - or at least that what it claims to do. At times it does this well, but too often the author uses the chapter title as an excuse for a rambling exploration of subjects only tenuously connected with the book or chapter title - hence from feet we go to travel and from travel to maps. I'm not sure if this is because there was not much more to say on the subject of feet or it's just poor editing. It's all intelligent stuff, but nevertheless turns what could have been a really interesting book, into a mildly interesting random collection of information about medieval times. At its best it is very good, but too often it drifts to this randomness. For me this is a shame, as it could have been much better. If you want a book that really is about the body in medieval times then you can do better, on the other hand if you are happy with a well written, slightly unfocused social history in snippets you may enjoy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ilana

    4.5 — I gobbled this book up in no time. If you, like me are interested in history in general and the medieval period in particular, you may enjoy this book a lot. The book is organized as a tour of the human body from head to foot by way of describing the lives, beliefs, sciences, art and much more that were prevalent in a vast period of time and which encompassed various civilizations and peoples. As a way of reconsidering what is still a poorly understood era, I found this approach interesting 4.5 — I gobbled this book up in no time. If you, like me are interested in history in general and the medieval period in particular, you may enjoy this book a lot. The book is organized as a tour of the human body from head to foot by way of describing the lives, beliefs, sciences, art and much more that were prevalent in a vast period of time and which encompassed various civilizations and peoples. As a way of reconsidering what is still a poorly understood era, I found this approach interesting, especially as the middle ages were imbued with a body politic, in which the ruler of a country, the queen or queen, was literally the "head" of the state. This period is so often defined by all the horrors the term "Dark Ages" suggests; recurring pandemics of plague, tortured bodies by way of a harsh & brutal punishing processes, overzealous doctors, poor to no sanitation, and so on. The author bases himself on a variety of sources to fill in details about this long period in human history. These constitute more areas of investigation for those who, like me, enjoy doing research for its own rewards. By all means not a comprehensive work on the period; even a series of encyclopedias couldn’t encompass all aspects of the medieval era, but I found the audiobook informative and fun to listen to. I've got the ebook version to look at still, in which some of the artworks mentioned are shown. I enjoyed this book so much, and it contains so many leads for further reading that I am very tempted to order the hardcover copy as well. The printed version contains more visual resources, since licensing issues limited the availability of reproductions in the electronic version. One of my standouts of the year, and possibly will merit 5 stars, a rating which I only give sparingly as when I’m likely to want an edition of the book to use as a reference or simply pore over again at leisure. This is a pleasurable use of time well spent.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maru Kun

    Subscription only review in LRB, but sounds a really interesting book: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n19/barbara... Subscription only review in LRB, but sounds a really interesting book: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n19/barbara...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    I was excited to read this, because it got rave reviews and the cover is so enticing—I thought perhaps it could become the core text for a course I'm thinking of teaching on the medieval body and medicine in the near future. Unfortunately, while lavishly illustrated and containing some interesting anecdotes, Medieval Bodies is a let down. It's an example of the pitfalls that can befall someone who's writing not only about a very broad topic, encompassing all of Europe and the Mediterranean regio I was excited to read this, because it got rave reviews and the cover is so enticing—I thought perhaps it could become the core text for a course I'm thinking of teaching on the medieval body and medicine in the near future. Unfortunately, while lavishly illustrated and containing some interesting anecdotes, Medieval Bodies is a let down. It's an example of the pitfalls that can befall someone who's writing not only about a very broad topic, encompassing all of Europe and the Mediterranean region over the period of a thousand years, but also outside of their discipline. Jack Hartnell is an art historian, and it shows. While his teasing apart of the objects and images he discusses is often very well done, his analysis of texts is often, um, less so, and his historiography is often dated and/or shallow. So for instance, you cannot talk about how Urban II's 1095 call to Crusade shows anything about his own racial thinking, because the text of his sermon doesn't survive. (We've got, I think, something like four medieval versions, written down from people's memories of the speech well after the fact—they all diverge substantially. Any undergrad could see the problems with using this as a source for Urban's thinking.) His account of medieval women and their access to power was positively Duby-esque (Duby's not mentioned in the bibliography, but given that Hartnell doesn't seem to have read deeper on the topic than Schaus's Encyclopedia, that's unsurprising). Those are big picture failings, but there are also lots of factual mistakes. For instance, the Catalan Atlas isn't oriented towards the north—it's a portolan chart, so "orientation" doesn't apply. I'm pretty sure Mansa Musa is depicted on it holding either a world orb or a lump of gold ore, not "an enormous gold coin." These examples could all be multiplied, but I don't like reviews which descend into a litany of all the errors in a book—especially when there's the kernel of such a good idea and approach here. Suffice to say this is not the introductory survey I hoped it could be.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sam Tornio

    If you want an introductory survey to the period that also manages to dive into the minutiae of things, this is your book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Goldenberg

    I’d just finished a novel set in the 1490s (Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind) and this was a very suitable follow-on. The novel paints a pretty grim picture of life in an isolated Medieval English village whereas, in his book, Jack Hartnell seeks to dispel some of the myths around the period as being the Dark Ages where humanity made very little progress culturally or scientifically. He uses the human body to structure the book going from head to toe. It’s somewhat artificial and rambles aroun I’d just finished a novel set in the 1490s (Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind) and this was a very suitable follow-on. The novel paints a pretty grim picture of life in an isolated Medieval English village whereas, in his book, Jack Hartnell seeks to dispel some of the myths around the period as being the Dark Ages where humanity made very little progress culturally or scientifically. He uses the human body to structure the book going from head to toe. It’s somewhat artificial and rambles around so much more than body parts, but I didn’t mind that. I found it a lively and entertaining read. Warning: the illustrations are vital so read either a hard copy or an e-book on a device that has a big enough screen to display them.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Grumpus

    The grumpus23 (23-word commentary) Interesting but disappointing. Perhaps better as a mini documentary series by body part. How people saw themselves with typical treatments of the time.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rory

    Solid enough but unexciting. In using the parts of the body as jumping-off points to explore wider Medieval culture, it becomes broad and shallow where a deep and narrow approach would have been more rewarding. The upside of this broadness is that there are a range of trivia titbits to spark the imagination. Personal favourites are the Cluniac monks' sign language (because of the vow of silence, see), the Welsh religious/erotic poet Gwerful Mechain, and the paper hearts pierced on the Spear of L Solid enough but unexciting. In using the parts of the body as jumping-off points to explore wider Medieval culture, it becomes broad and shallow where a deep and narrow approach would have been more rewarding. The upside of this broadness is that there are a range of trivia titbits to spark the imagination. Personal favourites are the Cluniac monks' sign language (because of the vow of silence, see), the Welsh religious/erotic poet Gwerful Mechain, and the paper hearts pierced on the Spear of Longinus, produced en masse as tourist merch. Jack Hartnell clearly has a lot of love for the bizarre and ingenious people of the Middle Ages, and dedicates several pages to dispelling the old blood-mud-and-shit, Game of Thrones-type conception of the period, which is an endeavour I've always got time for. Hartnell's preference for broad strokes over a more focused narrative frustrates me a little, but I suppose he his following the model of his Medieval predecessors – no bestiary, atlas or medical compendium worth its salt could resist a good tangent either. (A tangent of my own: the visual character of this book is exceptional, including the cover design and the many, many colour illustrations within. I'm so happy I got this from the library because it feels very expensive.)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kenny Tymick

    This history is structured into chapters relating to different body parts, ie., the head, the heart, the feet, and Hartnell seeks to elucidate his audience on how humanity viewed our corporeal forms biologically, scientifically, and culturally. Hartnell attempts to draw evidence from not only Western sources but from the Middle East and Asia as well, but by the end heavily leans on European accounts to assert his suppositions. There are pockets of interesting asides, but his research is paltry a This history is structured into chapters relating to different body parts, ie., the head, the heart, the feet, and Hartnell seeks to elucidate his audience on how humanity viewed our corporeal forms biologically, scientifically, and culturally. Hartnell attempts to draw evidence from not only Western sources but from the Middle East and Asia as well, but by the end heavily leans on European accounts to assert his suppositions. There are pockets of interesting asides, but his research is paltry and cherry-picked, and the conclusions that are subsequently drawn are weak and point toward what often felt like the author's own professed uncertainty about the subject. I questioned what I was supposed to have learned at the end of each chapter.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jelena Milašinović

    A fascinating book that offers a unique insight into the thoughts and attitudes of people from the Middle Ages regarding the body and medicine. I enjoyed reading this and the author's approach and writing was a pleasant surprise. A fascinating book that offers a unique insight into the thoughts and attitudes of people from the Middle Ages regarding the body and medicine. I enjoyed reading this and the author's approach and writing was a pleasant surprise.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum

    Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell was a great follow up after reading Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies in July. Medieval Bodies is structured with chapters dedicated to different parts of the body (e.g. head, heart, hands, feet and so on) from the head to foot in order to provide the reader with an overall picture of the body in the middle ages and the approach to medicine at the time. Of course, this includes the four humours ( Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell was a great follow up after reading Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies in July. Medieval Bodies is structured with chapters dedicated to different parts of the body (e.g. head, heart, hands, feet and so on) from the head to foot in order to provide the reader with an overall picture of the body in the middle ages and the approach to medicine at the time. Of course, this includes the four humours (blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm), and if a person was unwell, this was attributed to an imbalance of the humours. The appropriate treatment was then prescribed, which might include blood letting, leeches, poultices and more. "Lauded above sweat or urine or spiritus, blood was the medieval body’s most vital substance." Chapter 7 Occasionally the author drifted off topic and while still maintaining my interest in the content provided, it weakened the overall structure of the book in my opinion. Jack Hartnell is an Associate Professor of Art History specialising in the art of the Middle Ages and it shows in this book. There was a clear focus on the Art in the Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages subtitle, and by listening to this on audiobook, I missed out on the illustrations which might have lifted this from a 3 star to a 4 star read. My natural curiosity led me to seek out the artworks mentioned online and my efforts were rewarded. Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell is recommended reading in print form for those with an interest in history, art, medicine and the middle ages.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alasdair

    A really nice miscellany with weird and beautiful images and illustrations throughout - The Wheel of Urine is a particularly odd highlight. Risks sometimes being a little shallow given how impressively broad it is, but a concise and well laid out bibliography of accessible works is able to point you in the right direction of further reading for the myriad of issues touched upon. There's no great narrative or structure beyond the subdivision of the book by body part, but to say that this makes th A really nice miscellany with weird and beautiful images and illustrations throughout - The Wheel of Urine is a particularly odd highlight. Risks sometimes being a little shallow given how impressively broad it is, but a concise and well laid out bibliography of accessible works is able to point you in the right direction of further reading for the myriad of issues touched upon. There's no great narrative or structure beyond the subdivision of the book by body part, but to say that this makes the book disjointed or disconnected would be uncharitable. Rather than offer some overarching theory or comprehensive argument for how Medieval people viewed their bodies (arguably an impossible task generally, let alone for a popular history book - I know someone writing an entire thesis just on skin in the classical world), the book revels in the sheer variety and diversity of ways that different people understood and interpreted the human body. In my view, the book being so discursive is a feature not a bug. Given this though, it is a little disappointing when these discursions stray away from the body, and into more generic territory - looking at you, foot chapter. It's also so refreshing to see a broad work on Medieval life going beyond documenting Western Christendom alone by consistently integrating the stories, histories and experiences of Jewish and Islamic people into the book. A welcome reminder that there's more to the Medieval world than Northern Europe.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Laura Dzpz

    Medieval Bodies is a wonderful study of life, death and everything in between during the Middle Ages.  It has been a real pleasure reading this book, it’s too common to come across non-fiction books that are not properly structured or contextualized but that is definitely not the case, Medieval Bodies has excellent historical context and a good structure with a clear development of ideas.              In this book Hatnell paints a very complete picture of the Middle Ages. He analyses a wide and di Medieval Bodies is a wonderful study of life, death and everything in between during the Middle Ages.  It has been a real pleasure reading this book, it’s too common to come across non-fiction books that are not properly structured or contextualized but that is definitely not the case, Medieval Bodies has excellent historical context and a good structure with a clear development of ideas.              In this book Hatnell paints a very complete picture of the Middle Ages. He analyses a wide and diverse range of interesting subjects (medicine, race and racism, culinary practices, traveling or cartography to name only some) all of them connected through a common thread that gives its name to the book: the human body. Treating each body part as a chapter, the author throws light on how people lived at the time and the extent of the medieval understanding of the inner workings of bodies.              It’s also a beautiful book with very well selected coloured pictures that masterfully illustrate the text and help us immerse even more in this interesting historical era.              Finally, it should be noted the vast research task undertaken by the author that becomes clear just taking a look at the bibliography, also organized according to the multiple topics discussed in the book. 

  15. 4 out of 5

    Itasca Community Library

    Emylie says: This is a nice overview of living in the Medieval period, and Hartnell adds an interesting flair to discussing it by using the body. From head to toe, readers learn about a variety of subjects, such as what the stomach meant to people, or giving birth. He covers Europe and some of the Middle East, so there is a bit of diversity. However, it really is only a introductory book and not great if you're looking for a more in-depth look at the people involved and their practices/beliefs. Emylie says: This is a nice overview of living in the Medieval period, and Hartnell adds an interesting flair to discussing it by using the body. From head to toe, readers learn about a variety of subjects, such as what the stomach meant to people, or giving birth. He covers Europe and some of the Middle East, so there is a bit of diversity. However, it really is only a introductory book and not great if you're looking for a more in-depth look at the people involved and their practices/beliefs.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rhian Pritchard

    Fascinating, but hard going! My copy is now full of post it notes.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    An exquisitely beautiful book; like being handed an ornate 13th century reliquary casket to play with! Medieval Bodies is an informative, entertaining and eminently readable rumination on how Medieval people thought about themselves, focusing on art, medicine and literature. This is very accessible writing; erudite but unpretentious and frequently funny. It is also one of the few books I've encountered that takes a genuinely considered look at the position of women in Medieval society. The book i An exquisitely beautiful book; like being handed an ornate 13th century reliquary casket to play with! Medieval Bodies is an informative, entertaining and eminently readable rumination on how Medieval people thought about themselves, focusing on art, medicine and literature. This is very accessible writing; erudite but unpretentious and frequently funny. It is also one of the few books I've encountered that takes a genuinely considered look at the position of women in Medieval society. The book is divided into chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of the body: Skin, Blood, Bone and so forth. These don't pretend to provide an in-depth examination of Medieval medical thinking but, rather, act as a "... jumping off point for exploring all kinds of aspects of medieval life." It has to be said, the scope of this book is VERY wide, covering 1000 years of history and encompassing markedly different societies and cultures across Europe and the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, given the breadth of Hartnell's remit, the chapters sometimes feel a little thin. I was disappointed, given the medieval preoccupation with death and decay, that more space wasn't given to the concept of "danse macabre" and those shocking, to modern eyes, "cadaver tombs". To be fair, the chapter on "Bones" easily merits an entire book to itself. Perhaps in the future, Jack Hartnell will write one. If he does, I will certainly read it!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chris Davies

    This is an entertaining, wide ranging and well written book about life in the Middle Ages. Like others, I was expecting more of a focus on medieval views of how the body worked, illnesses and treatments etc. But once I got to grips with the fact that it has a much broader scope, I enjoyed it's magpie-like gathering together of information, anecdote and analysis. The butterfly flitting from topic to topic kept things fresh and interesting, and the use of artworks to interrogate the past is fascin This is an entertaining, wide ranging and well written book about life in the Middle Ages. Like others, I was expecting more of a focus on medieval views of how the body worked, illnesses and treatments etc. But once I got to grips with the fact that it has a much broader scope, I enjoyed it's magpie-like gathering together of information, anecdote and analysis. The butterfly flitting from topic to topic kept things fresh and interesting, and the use of artworks to interrogate the past is fascinating. Overall, I would rate the writing as a four star read. But what elevates this book easily to five star status is its production. It's wonderfully illustrated and designed, and produced with high quality materials. The care that has been lavished on its presentation is clear to see (although, even then, a few irritating typos managed to slip through.) I found myself asking why more books aren't produced this way. It's a beautiful thing to own, read and keep, which is why I'm a bit annoyed that I managed to spill curry over it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gaelicia

    I usually only write reviews in my native French so I hope you'll be forgiving if my English isn't at its best here. I really wanted to enjoy this book: at first glance, it's absolutely exquisite and it makes you want to know more. Once I started it, I found it quite difficult to follow_ not because of the elevated language used (most of it deriving from Latin hehe)_ but mainly because of the profusion of information. It sometimes felt like reading a student's essay: erudite words and at time in I usually only write reviews in my native French so I hope you'll be forgiving if my English isn't at its best here. I really wanted to enjoy this book: at first glance, it's absolutely exquisite and it makes you want to know more. Once I started it, I found it quite difficult to follow_ not because of the elevated language used (most of it deriving from Latin hehe)_ but mainly because of the profusion of information. It sometimes felt like reading a student's essay: erudite words and at time interesting content but also the impression of getting lost in useless paragraphs or examples which didn't quite fit in the chapters they were set in. I really don't like giving three star reviews, especially when it looks like the author did such an extensive research... But reading Michel Pastoureau's and Ernst Gombrich's works was much more delightful given their precision. All in all, if you know absolutely nothing or little about the Middle Ages, you will probably enjoy it more than I did.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Liz H

    Gives a remarkably broad overview of medieval history, society and culture all through the lens of the human body (as perceived by medieval Europe and Middle East) Organized by chapters devoted to body parts from head to foot. Each chapter examines not only the medical understanding and treatment of that body part, but it’s spiritual, political and cultural significances. Accessible and fast paced as it moves from topic to topic, but still engaging and (generally) not too simplified for the expe Gives a remarkably broad overview of medieval history, society and culture all through the lens of the human body (as perceived by medieval Europe and Middle East) Organized by chapters devoted to body parts from head to foot. Each chapter examines not only the medical understanding and treatment of that body part, but it’s spiritual, political and cultural significances. Accessible and fast paced as it moves from topic to topic, but still engaging and (generally) not too simplified for the expert reader. Expert readers will likely find things to critique in their pet areas (eg, I thought the section on women’s status was a bit scattered, but appreciated the effort at intersectionality made by acknowledging class and culture as factors) but the book is so wide ranging that there is probably something to interest anyone. Book is also beautifully produced!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Walt

    A catchy cover, a clever organization, and nice illustrations try to cover a cursory and rambling narrative of the Late Middle Ages. The introduction informs the reader that the Middle Ages are not just barbaric people struggling with pseudoscience....Then he amply demonstrates that was the case. The information is attractive and the passages are short. But so much of the content is context rather than the focus on body parts. The result is a casual glance at many different aspects of Medieval ( A catchy cover, a clever organization, and nice illustrations try to cover a cursory and rambling narrative of the Late Middle Ages. The introduction informs the reader that the Middle Ages are not just barbaric people struggling with pseudoscience....Then he amply demonstrates that was the case. The information is attractive and the passages are short. But so much of the content is context rather than the focus on body parts. The result is a casual glance at many different aspects of Medieval (Western European) life. Hartnell is an art historian, so the focus of the book is actually art. Hartnell presents some beautiful and fascinating art around which he provides a story. Each chapter focuses on a part of the body. From this organization, Hartnell presents a core piece of art, for example, Casper von Regensburg's "Frau Minne" depicts a Venus-like woman strolling past a man while surrounded by broken, tortured, and wounded hearts. If Hartnell focused on just the art, the book would be interesting, albeit considerably shorter. He then uses each chapter as a springboard to discuss other topics, such as the symbol of the heart, romance narratives, troubadours, etc. Each of these sections is brief at usually less than 10 pages. Although he on rare occasions he does go well beyond those ten pages as when he discusses LGBQ in a rambling chapter on genitalia. By the last chapter on feet, he barely mentions feet at all, instead talking about pilgrimages, maps, and the voyages of discovery. The introduction sets the book up as a revisionist history of an era appropriately known as the Dark Ages. The problem in this case is that Hartnell's illustrations are almost entirely Late Medieval, and mostly Western European. Even with the traditional focus on England and France, his claims that Medieval people had a surprising grasp of medical science in the era seem to fall apart with each chapter. Particularly vivid in my mind is the "wheel of urine sprouting from a tree" illustration from a 15th Century German medical manuscript. The colors of urine are arranged from clear to black with accompanying text. It is hard to tell if Hartnell is poking fun at the Medieval doctors, or if he is praising them for their thoroughness. In most chapters Hartnell maintains a positive view of the material and offers praise throughout. The writing is easy to follow. Only in one chapter does he really bog the readers down into medical science. Like most chapters, that was is short and broken up into many easy bits to digest. There is a light-hardheartedness to the writing. Hartnell is not writing for a small circle of Medievalists. The focus is for casual reading. The images will stay in the readers' mind long after the rest is forgotten. Really, who can forget an image of two nuns plucking penises off a tree and hiding them in their robes? The subtitle is "Life and Death in the Middle Ages." If Hartnell focused on the art and not on the context, the book would be stronger. Instead, each art piece is a springboard for distant topics. The penis tree is a springboard to discuss urology, anal arts (closing an anal fistula), and LGBQ commentary. I have already mentioned a couple of others. The result is that each chapter becomes less of a coherent and focused narrative, and becomes a rambling mish-mash of related things. None of the topics appear to have substantial discussion. And all of them are grounded in Western European culture. Overall, it is a tough book because of Hartnell wondering off topic. The art is solid. The art commentary is solid. Context is necessary; but too much context distracts the reader. Even with the art grounded in Late Medieval Western Europe is not problematic if Hartnell had not set up the reader to expect something broader and more encompassing. The result is that he tries to do too much within too little space. Only the art and the art commentary can stand up. The superficial treatment of nearly everything makes this book less relevant for casual readers, while the art itself seems too advanced for casual reading.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gayle Fallon

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. My research specialty is in late medieval literature, and I could get picky about a few of his textual readings, but his audience is clearly a general one and...well, I just don't care at the moment. I'm writing from a city under lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this book is interesting and beautiful enough to distract me from an impending apocalypse, so I'm giving it high marks. The wonder with which Hartnell approaches medieval art, history, and tex I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. My research specialty is in late medieval literature, and I could get picky about a few of his textual readings, but his audience is clearly a general one and...well, I just don't care at the moment. I'm writing from a city under lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this book is interesting and beautiful enough to distract me from an impending apocalypse, so I'm giving it high marks. The wonder with which Hartnell approaches medieval art, history, and texts is contagious and I very much needed an infusion of that wonder this week. I also learned quite a bit in the process. I raise my glass to Hartnell, and to complicated, exquisite bodies, both medieval and modern. P.S. Some reviewers are concerned that the information in certain sections seems to wander a bit from the section theme. I found these digressions to be delightful (and intentional) echoes of medieval encyclopedic works, which wander delightfully (and intentionally) all over the place.

  23. 4 out of 5

    J. Lee Hazlett

    4.25 stars. This book was very enjoyable and easy to read. The juxtaposition of color images with referential text was well done, and made the book superior to similar works that reference maps or images without showing them, or which show them only in black and white. This feels like a work that will spawn an entire subgenre of more specific histories of the body's place in medieval culture. I wanted it to be much longer and more detailed - to be, in fact, the very subgenre that it will hopeful 4.25 stars. This book was very enjoyable and easy to read. The juxtaposition of color images with referential text was well done, and made the book superior to similar works that reference maps or images without showing them, or which show them only in black and white. This feels like a work that will spawn an entire subgenre of more specific histories of the body's place in medieval culture. I wanted it to be much longer and more detailed - to be, in fact, the very subgenre that it will hopefully kick-start. The way that the bibliography section was done is particularly worthy of praise (it merited the quarter star), as it makes it much, much easier for the reader to trace back information about a particular topic of interest than any bibliography I've seen before.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A nice overview of how medieval people viewed their bodies in whole and in part, but mostly in part. The author definitely discusses the medical understandings of the day and the things that pious people did with body parts that allegedly came from saints, but this was mostly about the symbolic meeting that those various body parts held such as the head representing leadership or the bones representing death (skeletons, you know) or the heart representing love or the genitals representing, well, A nice overview of how medieval people viewed their bodies in whole and in part, but mostly in part. The author definitely discusses the medical understandings of the day and the things that pious people did with body parts that allegedly came from saints, but this was mostly about the symbolic meeting that those various body parts held such as the head representing leadership or the bones representing death (skeletons, you know) or the heart representing love or the genitals representing, well, you know or the feet representing travel, just to name a few. When he started talking about fashion in the chapter about skin, I thought it a bit of a stretch but there is an element of skin covering there I guess This was a fun book, entertaining at times and a little dry at other times.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    A beautifully illustrated book that examines medieval culture and life through several chapters that follow a biological map from head to foot. Each chapter examines what the philosophy of each part of the body meant to the medieval mind as well as the religious, political and sociological aspects to it i.e. the head and the relation to the body politic and the king as well as the various treatments for ailments for that part of the body and the philosophy and religion relating to wider society A beautifully illustrated book that examines medieval culture and life through several chapters that follow a biological map from head to foot. Each chapter examines what the philosophy of each part of the body meant to the medieval mind as well as the religious, political and sociological aspects to it i.e. the head and the relation to the body politic and the king as well as the various treatments for ailments for that part of the body and the philosophy and religion relating to wider society and how people saw themselves and others. It is also interesting in how it clears up some misconceptions about people and society during that time, for instance the average height of a medieval man was similar to modern day averages. A well written and interesting tomb.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Olosta

    Very interesting topic, but I didn't like the authors approach much. He often strays so far away from the central subject, i.e. the body, that it gets buried under miscellaneous facts only marginally relating to the body. An example: in the chapter about Feet, a large portion of the text talks about travelling and maps. I would've preffered the author to write more about the actual body part, feet, and how they were positioned in the medieval understanding of the body. Very interesting topic, but I didn't like the authors approach much. He often strays so far away from the central subject, i.e. the body, that it gets buried under miscellaneous facts only marginally relating to the body. An example: in the chapter about Feet, a large portion of the text talks about travelling and maps. I would've preffered the author to write more about the actual body part, feet, and how they were positioned in the medieval understanding of the body.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Zusu

    slightly disappointing, the topic is way too broad, and so, there lies a few interesting tid bits explored on the separate chapters on the head/senses/ skin/bone/heart/blood/hands/stomach/genital and feet Each chapter begins with a body part, which is used as a spring board to explore within a meandering discussion... It is apparent that the book is written by an art historian, would have been suited better as a coffee book with larger illustrated examples exploring the topic of the body in the m slightly disappointing, the topic is way too broad, and so, there lies a few interesting tid bits explored on the separate chapters on the head/senses/ skin/bone/heart/blood/hands/stomach/genital and feet Each chapter begins with a body part, which is used as a spring board to explore within a meandering discussion... It is apparent that the book is written by an art historian, would have been suited better as a coffee book with larger illustrated examples exploring the topic of the body in the medieval period as the art work included was great fun to look at

  28. 4 out of 5

    Candice Bentley

    Unfortunately, this book attempted to cover an overly broad topic and was not able to accomplish a fully cohesive narrative of how people may have thought about their bodies in the Middle Ages. It also felt a bit contrived to call the book an exploration of the Middle Ages as most of the narrative seemed to focus on documents available from the 14th or 15th centuries. While other centuries may have been incorporated, it was too much of a stretch for me.

  29. 5 out of 5

    emily

    A nonstop delight. Seriously. I found myself finding ways to bring up weird medieval anatomy ideas when I was talking with a dad at my son's basketball game. And I didn't care that I looked like a god damn lunatic. That's some praise right there. A nonstop delight. Seriously. I found myself finding ways to bring up weird medieval anatomy ideas when I was talking with a dad at my son's basketball game. And I didn't care that I looked like a god damn lunatic. That's some praise right there.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    i don’t know f all about history or history books so this is probably a v naïve five star rating but honestly i loved it, a really nice balance of history, historical anecdote and art. learnt a lot - super enjoyable read !

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...