There was a time when castles were painted white: pale warnings set in the world's wildest places. Their floors were carpets of rushes whose starry flowers blossomed in vain against the sour smell of garbage and unwashed bodies. There was a time when forks were considered effete and kings ate with their hands. There was a time when ladies plucked their hairlines and men dyed their beards purple. There was a time when a tournament was a graceless clash of up to 3,000 knights fitted into massive saddles draped with heraldic tapestries. There was a time when a life could end with a simple sword thrust or the complications from a pin prick: a time of violence and filth. Blood and disease flourished in the gutters.
There was a time when people lived in shacks – airless and dark. There was a time when light's invisible molecules pierced cathedral windows that arched into heaven and were spliced into fierce primaries: blue, red and yellow. The columns of color blessed the shadowy naves and transepts, the architectural crucifix. There was a time of rags and of mud. But it was a time of gold: it dripped into embroideries, it was hammered into walls that writhed with alchemic life. A knight's helmet could sprout antlers, grow branches, or cradle a falcon: all golden symbols of his brutal ancestry. There was a time when fear held men by the throat.
Yet it was also a time for books – spared from society's barbarism. Before the firt printing presses began to smear and creak, manuscripts were illustrated by hand – 'illuminated'. Decoration and calligraphy merged to birth tiny worlds of zoology and humanity that swirled like painted galaxies on skies of vellum and parchment. A living filigree of crimson dragons, twisted vines, flowers, birds, ships, animals that drooled and glowered, twittering insects: a hallucinogenic pattern that wove between letters and reclined within margins: buzzing and rustling.
Within a single letter, a ship will balance on a triad of moss-colored waves while below, the gray shadows of dolphins and whales balanced between air and water. Or, beneath a canopy dotted with fleur-de-lis, a king sits at a banquet, choosing from the plattes held up by his cowering servants. Beasts and monsters were curled and cramped inside their etymological cages.
Sometimes the letters sprouted leaves, serpent's heads that barked and spat, or faces with dark, Byzantine eyes. Once the pen completed its essential outline of the initial, it lept from the artisan's fist, erupting into a madness of pointillism and populations. Colors that were crushed out of berries, insects and herbs spilled into angles and curves that twisted into endless highways across the map of a single page.
There was a time when Art held a handkerchief to her nose to walk amongst the fog of humanity and stand at its shoulder.