Medieval Rhetoric

Today in class, we briefly discussed observations we’ve encountered from Florence that relate to the text. One really great example given was about preaching in medieval times. It was explained that preaching was one of the three arts of medieval rhetoric and was prosperous due to the large nature of individuals at this point in time being highly illiterate and uneducated. So, preaching became a method in which to teach large uneducated masses of people about religion, faith, and the importance of spirituality. Indeed, art in the medieval period served a similar purpose. It was also discussed in class today that medieval art served as propagation of faith for the church due to the vast visual outreach art had to the same uneducated and illiterate masses. It was explained that these individuals would learn concepts about religion in masses at church where preaching would take place and then those concepts would later be reinforced and continued through the visual ‘reading’ of medieval art.

A great example of this would be Dante’s Divine Comedy and “The Comedy Illuminating Florence”. Dante’s book was read in the church and taught individuals about the 3 states after death, inferno (hell), purgatory, and paradise (heaven). This text was also illustrated in the painting “The Comedy Illuminating Florence”, which hangs in the Duomo in central Florence. This particular painting illustrates Dante’s three states and portrays Florence as Paradise. Other works in the medieval period, all commissioned by the church, were intended to propagate the faith taught within churches throughout communities. Individuals would constantly encounter mosaics, frescoes, altarpieces and other forms of art that inspired constant contact with their faith, devotion, and spirituality. Art became the way to teach a society that could not read or write to understand on their own.


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