Monday, May 25, 2009

Image Interpretation: A Bleg

::poof!::

21 comments:

The History Enthusiast said...

I think of medieval women and possibly power dynamics. I am not a medievalist, for full disclosure, but I would date these to the early Middle Ages (say, around 1300). If that is totally wrong, sorry!

squadratomagico said...

In both cases, they look like a petitioner asking something of a highly-ranked official -- either presenting a case to a judge, or (and I think this is a better guess) asking for some form of assistance/ justice/ favor from a king (ermine and red robe ion one case; actual crown in the other).

The first pic clearly features an aristocratic woman petitioner (expensive blue gown); she looks modest and respectable (nicely braided hair). Behind her are two people, presumably married (woman's hair is covered), and probably to each other (he's touching her shoulder). These are perhaps the petitioner's parents? They look concerned and engaged with the situation, sympathetic to the pleading woman.

The second pic is harder to make out, but I think I'm seeing a child, female as per your info, who is leading the presentation before the king. The girl is backed up by a still-youthful woman behind her: the child gestures towards the woman (even holding her robe?) who, in turn, has her own hands clasped in a petitioning pose towards the king. I'd assume this is the girl's mother. Behind these two are three adults who look disinterested: in this case, I'd interpret them as courtiers, rather than family or friends of the petitioner.

squadratomagico said...

I also would add that the king in the first pic looks more sympathetic than the second king. He's gesturing back, as if he's asking a question or interested, while the second king is holding the sword in one hand, and pointing at the petitioners rather intimidatingly (accusingly?) with the other.

Anonymous said...

Although I've read your manuscript, I'm just going to comment that the picture at the bottom seems more visually "balanced" and the colors look brighter. These facts make it appealing to me. Also (I'm a little shocked at myself for saying this) your book has a lot to do with male vs. female power/privilege, and that is one damn phallic sword. I'd vote for the second image.

M.

Susan said...

I did not read the first image immediately as a King (Squadrato has the advantage in medieval iconography!), but it did look like three people asking someone else for something. I like the sense of interchange in it, but it's not clear what the interchange was about. If I didn't know better, I might even think it's a market or some such.
The second -- while small -- was clearly emblematic of royal authority (love that sword), and the petitioning woman and child create a really interesting composition.

Historiann said...

Boy--you move really fast! Both of these images are great, but I like the second for all of the reasons others have noted above (clarity of colors, interesting composition, the unusual touch with the child, and the sword.)

Clio Bluestocking said...

I know nothing about medieval history, so my judgement is based solely on "pretty." The second picture, with the big gold bar down the center, the figures on each side facing the center, and the sword cutting across both sides (hee! pun!), has more drama. I would pass such a book and pause, wondering, "what's going on here?"

Congratulations! To paraphrase Miss Melly in Gone With the Wind: "The happiest days are the days that books come!"

Anonymous said...

I like both of them, and as others have commented, petitioning or supplication seems to be the issue. The other thing to remember with cover art is that depending on who is publishing your book, there will be a cover designer who may modify your image to add to the interpretive and visual impact. Check out U Penn's covers from their medieval list for example, they are lovely, IMHO. But they also show how the cover artist can modify the image.

Good Enough Woman said...

There does seem to be very different power juju going on in the two images. The second one, as said above, is more dramatic--such a strong indication of power being wielded over such a small figure asking, perhaps, for mercy. So maybe it depends on your topic and your argument?

squadratomagico said...

Notorious, are you going to tell us what the images actually *are* illustrating? This was the funnest post to comment on EVER, and I want to know what they are really about.

Are they illustrating the same event?

Also: the couple I speculated were the "parents" in fig. 1 seem like they are of a lower class than the blue-clad woman. Their clothes are kind of drab. So, wassup?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hi Folks --

As per Squadrato's request, I will indeed post an explanation in a day or two -- I just want to garner as many responses/reactions as possible before tainting people's reactions with knowledge of what they actually *are.* As we know, the short title and the cover image are the two things that cause us to think we might be interested (or not) in a book, so the picture needs to communicate something *before* the potential reader knows what the book is about, as well as match up with the book's topic *after* they know.

Anyway, keep those ideas and interpretations coming. It's impressing me, and giving me food for thought. And G.E.W., I think you're right on target in saying that it depends on the type of relationship between women and authority I want to convey.

And M -- believe it or not, I hadn't even thought of the phallic angle. I must be seriously slipping.

Bavardess said...

That sword in the second image is definitely very phallic! They say supplication to me, and I also wondered if there might be a link to wardship/male control over the girl's immediate future (marriage maybe?) because of the power differential between the king/lord and the girl/young woman. I'm intrigued, though, by the apparent difference in status between the young woman and the couple in the first picture. On purely aesthetic grounds, I preferred the second image (balance, colours etc.)

tenthmedieval said...

The second image I read much as others have; the child and woman have had to place themselves at the king's mercy and it is not yet clear whether this will turn out well for them. The first one, however, mainly because of the expressions on the faces of not just the petitioners but the official, made me think of more two-edged agendas. The book that one wants to illustrate is called something like Rumour and Scandal in Medieval Judgements I reckon. The second one sings much more of power imbalance and entreaty and might entitle something whose short title is a snazzy quote and the subtitle Mercy and Gender in Medieval Society. I don't know which of those books you're closer to writing but that's how I read the images on first glance.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Oooh! Tenthmedieval adds a new element to the game! From now on, you're invited to submit potential titles for the book that the image corresponds to!

squadratomagico said...

Goddamn, I LOVE this game.

Fig 1: Negotiating Justice: Law, Society, and Authority in Medieval [country of choice]Fig 2: "Please, sir, I want some more!": Gender and Justice in Medieval [country of choice]

(Just kidding about the quote... something cute like that).

Digger said...

As with Susan, I didn't read the person on the right as a King, or even male. But they obviously held power ... they have a raised seat, and the others are asking (begging?) for something (though to me, the male on the left seemed to be a little removed from the discussion). I'm curious what would have women doing the asking, with male (relatives? perhaps in the first example; possibly relatives or lords in the second?) taking the background. Actually, looking again... are the woman with the uncovered hair and the "child" being offered to the King? The King in the first image is looking at the "mother", not the woman with uncovered hair; if it's a negotiation/petitioning, the King would be interacting with the petitioner, who isn't the woman with uncovered hair (nor is it the the man), but IS the woman behind her.

I can't see who's looking at who in the smaller image, but the King is pointing at the woman with covered hair. The vertical gold stripe suggests to me the "child" is in a liminal state. Perhaps offered by the family, and not yet accepted by the King?

The colors in the smaller image are more appealing. Also, the framing of the image allows room for your title at the top / the stripes of color can be continued to fill the cover (depending on layout).

Both images are very compelling; but to a non-Medievalist, the smaller one makes more sense (assuming the authority figure in reference is always male and a King).

I have no title suggestion, but I'm thinking a nunnery wasn't the only option for unmarried, younger daughters...

Digger said...

PS: If the smaller one is really that small, be sure you can get it at a resolution high enough that it isn't all pixely when blown up for the book cover.

rootlesscosmo said...

The first one's got the words "incipit" and "manumissione" above the image--something's begun, and someone's being set free? But who or what I don't know.

The History Enthusiast said...

I didn't actually give my aesthetic opinion before, oops! I do think the second one is more compelling. I missed the phallic sword too, but now that I look at it I don't know how I missed it.

Don Guitar said...

Image #1: Number the ladies one through four from left to right. Lady number three has just asked lady number four for her Porrey Chapeleyn recipe while lady number two is quietly murmuring to lady number one "She'll not get it."

Image #2: The kneeling woman is asking for a raise in her household allowance while the child, imagining all sorts of goodies previously unattainable, voices adamant support. Meanwhile the spectators have decided that they aren't above kneeling, if it works for her.

I know, not very scholarly but then I'm a geek, not a scholar. :)

Anonymous said...

I assumed that the authority figure in image #1 was a woman - something about the covering over the hair and what appeared to be rolls of hair underneath, as well as the length of the robes and lack of any other symbol of authority (ie the king clearly shows up with a crown and sword). So the first image, in my reading, is a female petitioner to a female authority figure who seems engaged, whereas the second seems like a tiny (female) child facing a kind of scary king (maybe 'scary' only because of the sword, and the juxtaposition of the small child and the huge sword). So I definitely agree with other posters that it depends on the kind of power dynamic that the book explores - uneven in that more expected medieval way, or challenging that with an idea about female agency, negotiation, and female authority? (Of course I know I could be wrong about Authority Figure #1, but I do like this image better. On the other hand, it's compelling at those who have read the ms seem to like image #2 better.)