The Tres Riches Heures

The ‘Very Rich Hours’ of the Duc de Berry is a densely illustrated book created by the teenage [?!] Limbergh Brothers in the 14th Century for the Duc de Berry-one of the wealthiest men in France. Ten years ago The Metropolitan Museum mounted a comprehensive exhibit on Medieval illumination highlighted by the volume.

Seminar Outline

Passion, Piety, Plagues, and Polities-The World of the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages can be found, somewhere, in the centuries between the destruction of Rome 476 AD/CE  and the expulsion of the Moslem caliphate from Europe in 1492 AD/CE. “Dark Ages” were replaced by color and light in the High Middle Ages.  Feudalism was undermined eventually by vibrant city life and proto-Capitalism. Controversial Church reform, increasingly expressive art and exuberant architecture-all excited the age. Countering the positive trends, anti-semitism, the Black Death, and constant warfare made the future outlook seem gloomy.

This seminar will look at the heritage of the Middle Ages which, in many ways, foreshadows modern Europe and our modern world.

The seminar will follow a topical approach and, therefore, there will be no straight line chronology through the period. Art, Architecture, Religion , Social Change will be “post-holed”-that is, the seminar session may well cover material from the 5th Century-15th.

A highlight of the seminar is the participation of speakers with special expertise. The schedule of speakers and session topics is subject to change.

Sessions are subject to change or rescheduling

Phil Deely

Rome: An Urban Barometer

The population of Rome provides an excellent measure for the Southern European region’s overall health and stability. Although the term “Dark Ages” has fallen out of favor, during the Medieval era it appeared that the Eternal City might be headed towards extinction. I find it incredible that, during the glory days of the Empire, Rome’s population was fully 50% of the 21st century’s city.

Paris-Another Measure

Paris from Roman Empire through the Revolution of 1789

The story of Paris is one of steady evolution from a fortified town and garrison outpost for the Legions to a full-fledged urban center in the High Middle Ages.

The First Crusade

The First Crusade was preached by Pope Urban II in the 11th Century. His motivation was simple-redirect potential anti-papal forces towards the ultimate reconquest, the holy city of Jerusalem.

Contemporary chroniclers and later historians have ascribed many different motives to the crusaders; the promise of a plenary indulgence guaranteeing salvation to crusaders, a disgruntled knightly class seeking an outlet for their martial energies, a grab for power to counter the Moors. The success of the First Crusade electrified Christian Europe.

The BBC documentary The Crusades provides a useful overview of the First Crusade’s impact on Europe and the Muslim world. When, after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, President Bush called for a new crusade, the Moslem world had an historical frame of reference that promised, in turn, a new jihad.

The 45 minute documentary is a bit quirky but it’s worth wading through the YouTube ads.

Another presentation on the Crusades is a breezy overview in 25 minutes from Protestant historian Robert Godfrey, His various biases shine through but if you wanted to brush up on this crucial phenomenon just click here.

Sir Kenneth Clark

The young Kenneth Clark
Sir Kenneth Clark

Snobbish. Arrogant. Cultural Imperialist. Misogynist. Kenneth Clark’s CIVILISATION a 1969 documentary series and worldwide hit for the BBC preceded the attacks (most justified) leveled against the narrator in succeeding years. Born to wealth and privilege, Clark had no hesitation anointing Western Civilization as the highest known to man.

The 13-part series began with three episodes that provide Clark’s take on the Middle Ages. ‘The Skin Our Teeth,’ ‘The Great Thaw,’ and ‘Romance and Realty’ look down at this seminar from Olympian heights. Though I preface these with caveats that never occurred to me in 1968, it’s a pleasure walking through Chartres with a connoisseur of the Old School. These episodes are available on Amazon Prime

or YouTube.

Looking back on his career Clark offered a perspective that helps make up for some of his failings…

I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time. I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology.

Sir Kenneth Clark

The Year 1200

The Year 1200 was a blockbuster 1970 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. A lush catalog provided a comprehensive overview of the period. Though the catalog is out of print copies can be ordered on Amazon.

I team taught a mini-course based on this exhibit in my first year of teaching at Simon’s Rock. My compatriots, Graham Anderson and Ed Misch, were experienced, skilled teachers. I knew Graham’s formidable intellect as he’d taught me history in prep school. Ed Misch was a former Catholic priest whose gentle demeanor belied his two doctorates and deep experience with Church hierarchy. I brought a willingness to make travel arrangements , purchase exhibit tickets, and provide snacks upon request! I also brought a bit of new scholarship having just completed a sequence of classes on the period. So I’m glad to be back in the 13th Century with OLLI!