The Mystic Ark: Hugh of Saint Victor, Art, and Thought in the Twelfth Century
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In this book, Conrad Rudolph studies and reconstructs Hugh of St. Victor's forty-two-page written work, The Mystic Ark, which describes the medieval painting of the same name. In medieval written sources, works of art are not often referred to, let alone described in any detail. Almost completely ignored by art historians because of the immense difficulty of its text, Hugh of Saint Victor's Mystic Ark (c. 1125-1130) is among the most unusual sources we have for an understanding of medieval artistic culture. Depicting all time, all space, all matter, all human history, and all spiritual striving, this highly polemical painting deals with a series of cultural issues crucial in the education of society's elite during one of the great periods of intellectual change in Western history.
defined segment of a journey. In particular, three of these four other places in which the word mansio appears refer to the forty-two stages or stopping places of the Hebrews in their wandering in the desert, the subject of an unwritten exegetical treatise by Hugh and a distinctive element in The Mystic Ark (Fig. 7, nos. 7 and 8).56 Study of The Mystic Ark suggests that, to the scripturally oriented Hugh, the word mansio also conveys the idea of stages of spiritual progress in the return of an
more revealed to you.3 To the art historian, a very wide range of material indeed emerges from The Mystic Ark, whose study here is not directly concerned with intellectual history, the history of science, theology, and so on but only indirectly, in regard to the image in its historical context, broadly understood. For example, The Mystic Ark is of great importance in showing to what degree an original work of visual art could participate in the current controversies of its time. In this regard,
the region of the air and the overlaying Ocean Stream of the earth (which, however, is masked in my construction of the Ark by Paradise) because water is the generative source for the animals of both the air and the water created on that day, though Hugh feels that the bodily nature is more akin to earth than to the natural “elements” of air and water (Color Fig. 5).236 But the more immediate factors in the placement of these two days are, as before, Hugh’s theory of the three processes of
contradictory. The integration of the main inscriptions regarding the length and width into this passage, however, indicates that this characterization is not accidental. The explanation for the diagonal arrangement is inherent in the basic meaning of the length and width of the Ark, that “the length of the Church is thought of as the passage of time, just as the width is thought of as the multitude of peoples.”417 In their diagonal progression, the planks represent the two basic components of
nature in the first Adam and the source of its potential perfection in the second Adam, Christ. Second, through the Adam macro/microcosm, Hugh was able to articulate the origin of original sin and its transmittal to all humankind through propagation from Adam. The complexity of the visual argumentation inherent in the relationship between the central cubit and the Adam macro/microcosm can now be further elaborated upon by pointing out the connection between these issues and baptism. It is only