History of the World in Objects and Art

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350BC 1205 1530 1868
200BC 1260 1600 1890
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History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline

The Turkish Conquest of Anatolia

The First Crusade
The Court and the Church: The Great Divide

An Emperor humbles himself

Formerly an impregnable mountain fortress,
Canossa loomed above the countryside like an eyrie, eighteen kilometres southwest of Reggio nell'Emilia. Here, where today geckoes can be found scurrying over its ruined walls in midday heat, an extraordinary chapter of European history was written in 1077. In this castle, which belonged to the pious and influential Countess Matilda of Tuscany, the most powerful ruler in the West fell on his knees before the Pope to beg for forgiveness. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Strife between temporal and spiritual authority had never escalated to such a degree. At that time. Henry IV, who was both the Holy Roman emperor (crowned in 1084) and German King (1056-1106), was only twenty-seven years old  half the age of his adversary, Pope Gregory VII (c. 10201085).These two men had heartily disliked each other for years and were locked in a power struggle, with theauthority of each at stake.

Since his election in 1073, Pope Gregory VII had worked earnestly to reform the Church. He forbade priests to marry and prohibited the widespread practice of simony, the sale of lucrative ecclesiastical preferment to nobles without a vocation or theological background. In addition, Pope Gregory VII insisted that all temporal rulers were subject to him, Christ's deputy on earth, and that only he, the Pope, might determine who was to become an abbot or bishop and where such office should be held. From time immemorial, emperors, kings and dukes had appointed abbots and bishops, personally giving them their rings and croziers as the insignia of their ecclesiastical dignity. Things had progressed to such an extent that monasteries and bishoprics only existed because they had been endowed with land and wealth by the nobility. Abbots and bishops were required to place the possessions of their church at the disposal of their temporal rulers in time of war or economic necessity. As a result, the power of the rulers was based on the loyalty of their clergy. And now the pope was trying to create a clergy loyal to the ecclesiastical authorties! The enraged Emperor-King Henry IV proclaimed that Pope Gregory VII had been deposed and the investiture strife broke out. Investiture (from the Latin investing means the clothing of abbots and bishops signifying that they areinvested with their rank and office. The Pope excommunicated Henry IV, banishing him from the Church, and absolved his subjects from their oath of allegiance to their Emperor. The pontifical acts put Henry IV in checkmate.

This was an age in which belief meant life, and life meant faith. There was no doubt that anyone who had anything at all to do with an excommunicated person under the ban of the Church had made a pact with the devil. The only way Henry IV could free himself from this predicament was to travel to Canossa as a penitent and humbly beg the Pope to lift the ban. Before going, he cast about for powerful allies who might intercede for him. His godfather, Abbot Hugh of Cluny, and the Countess Matilda of Tuscany agreed to do so. Finally, on 27 January 1077, the Papal ban on Henry IV was lifted. The quarrel over investiture, however, dragged on until 1122.

King Henry IV Begging Countess Matilda
of Tuscany and Abbot Hugh of Cluny to
Intercede for Him with Pope Gregory VII
From the Donizo manuscript
Illuminated manuscript
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome

The Heiji Rebellion
Medieval Medical Matters

Healing with stones

Early eighteenth-century pharmacy

Herbal recipes prescribed by St Hildegard of Bingen
have been used since the Middle Ages. 

Containers from the Carmelite Convent in Schongau, 

In Europe and America, the trade of precious stones is booming and exhibitions of common minerals attract more visitors every year. The sheer volume of advertising for alternative therapy alone is astonishing. Increased dissatisfaction with the results of scientific medicine is promoting a search for different treatments. This quest for healing has led to the rediscovery of all sorts of forgotten cures and remedies for disease, among them the therapeutic use of precious stones. The practice of healing through the use of such stones has a long tradition. Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer who perished at Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, wrote at length about the healing properties of gems and minerals in his Historia naturalis, an encyclopaedia of natural science. Later Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540604) and the Benedictine monk known as the Venerable Bede (672/73735), the founder of English historiography and author of De natura rerum, joined the circle of those "in the know" on the healing properties of precious stones. These two men drew their inspiration from the Revelation of St John the Divine, which mentions crystals and precious stones in connection with his vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem. During the Middle Ages, the first person to advance the practice of this type ofalternative medicine was a woman: St Hildegard of Bingen (10981179), an abbess who was later canonized and is today regarded as the first German mystic and one of the great women of the Middle Ages. Her writings deal with the aetiology of disease and the treatment of patients, and she even corresponded with emperors, kings, popes and scholars on the subject. St Hildegard's natural remedies included herbal infusions and elixirs distilled from metals or precious stones dissolved in wine, and according to one: "A sufferer from gout should place a diamond in some wine for a whole day and then drink of it. The gout will depart from him." By the late Middle Ages, however, healing with precious stones was seen as witchcraft and black magic, and its practice seemed threatened into oblivion. In the fifteenth century, Paracelsus (14931541), alchemist and the city physician to Salzburg and Basel, staunchly defended this form of alternative medicine, and encouraged the therapeutic use of mineral baths and minerals as medicine. Jakob Bohme (15751624), and his circle of mystic philosophers, also defended nature-based medicine their teachings later exercised great influence on the German Romantics, especially the nineteenth-century poets who reawakened interest in alternative medicine.
Today, at the close of the twentieth century, St Hildegard of Bingen's remedies, the resurgence of nineteenth-century homeopathic medicine, together with the flower-essence therapy developed by English herbalist Edward Bach, form the basis of a type of medical treatment advocated by New Age circles. Furthermore, St Hildegard's knowledge of the psychological aspects of disease finds its resonance in modern psychosomatic medicine. In the work illustrated here, the saint and visionary is seen dictating a letter in her cell, whose columns symbolize the Old and the New Covenant, and above her is the five-tongued ray of divine inspiration.

Anonymous, German
St Hildegard Dictating Her Letters to Monk Volmar
с. 1180
Detail from the 
Liber Scivias,
copy of the former Rupertsberg Codex
Illuminated manuscript
Abbey of St Hildegard, Eibingen

Myths and Medicine

How to catch a unicorn

The fifth century ВС Greek historian and personal physician to Persian Kings, Cresias is said to have discovered all the wonders of his time. And so, he was the first to tell of the amazing beast called the unicorn: it could be found in Asia and was a white, donkey-like horse with a red head, blue eyes and a large horn. According to Cresias, the horn, if scraped down and ground to a powder, was an antidote to poison and relieved muscle cramps. Although malicious gossip had it that Ctesias was a drinker and a pathological liar, his tale of the unicorn lived on. Physiologus, an anonymous writer who invested all sorts of animals with Christian symbolism, took up the tale, associating the unicorn with Christ. Conceived by a virgin, the Son of God had become a "horn of healing" as an antidote to all the world's ills. In the Middle Ages, when poison had become a popular instrument to settle political disputes, many rulers were anxious to protect themselves from assassination through the horn of the unicorn. By the sixteenth century it was considered more than an antidote to poison and an aphrodisiac; it was also "serviceable and wholesome as a remedy for epilepsy, pestilential fever, rabies and parasitic worms".

But how is one to catch a unicorn? Physiologus himself had remarked that the marvellous beast, which loved solitude and shunned humans, was "possessed of high courage". He stated further: "The hunter cannot approach it because it is so powerful." The famous legend which told of placing a virgin in the path of a unicorn was still known. And although artists had been dealing with the subject matter for centuries, few success stories had been recorded. All that was known was that a unicorn could not be deceived by an "unvirtuous" virgin. If the unicorn were tricked in such a way, instead of placing its head in her lap it would ram its horn into her side.

Capturing a unicorn was not a simple undertaking. Considering this, the number of cornua unicornuum(unicorn horns) in the treasuries and curiosity cabinets of Renaissance princes is astonishing. Upon closer inspection, these "horns", which can be up to three metres long, transpire to be the tusks of male narwhals. It is for this reason that the narwhal is also known as the "unicorn whale".

The Lady and the Unicorn
Late 15th or early 16th century
A mon seul desir, sixth scene from a six-part tapestry woven in Brussels Wool
Musee National de L'Hotel de Cluny, Paris

The Third Crusade

The Crusaders in Constantinople

The Crusaders in Constantinople