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Article

Michael Curschmann

The medieval term mappa mundi (also forma mundi, historia/istoire) covers a broad array of maps of the world of which roughly 1100 survive. These have resisted systematic classification, but the clearly dominant type is one that aims at comprehensively symbolistic representation. Its early, schematic form is a disc composed of three continents surrounded and separated from one another by water (“T-O Map”) and associated with the three sons of Noah: Asia (Shem) occupies all of the upper half, Europe (Japhet) to the left and Africa (Ham) to the right share the lower half. Quadripartite cartographic schemes included the antipodes as a fourth continent, but the tripartite model was adopted by the large majority of the more developed world maps in use from the 11th century on and—with important variations—well into the Renaissance. While details were added as available space permitted, the Mediterranean continued to serve as the vertical axis and, with diminishing clarity, the rivers Don and Nile as the horizontal one. The map also continues to be ‘oriented’ towards Asia, where paradise sits at the very top. A circular ocean forms the perimeter and not infrequently the city of Jerusalem constitutes its centre....

Article

Nigel Gauk-Roger

[It.: ‘sacred conversation’]

Term applied to a type of religious painting, depicting the Virgin and Child flanked on either side by saints, which developed during the 15th and 16th centuries and is associated primarily with the Italian Renaissance. The specific characteristics of the genre are that the figures, who are of comparable physical dimensions, seem to co-exist within the same space and light, are aware of each other and share a common emotion. This relationship is conveyed, with greater or lesser emphasis, by gesture and expression. The compositions are usually frontal and centralized, and are distinguished by an aura of stillness and meditation.

In late medieval and early Renaissance art Central Italian polyptychs had generally consisted of a main panel of the Virgin and Child enthroned, flanked by smaller panels showing individual figures of saints; large altarpieces often had small scenes of related narrative below (predellas) and sometimes also above. Usually the panels were divided and surrounded by a frame of a consistent architectonic pattern. Main and lesser figures were differentiated in terms of size and, set against a gold background, seemed to exist beyond space and time....