Angels on pinheads

An angel playing and dancing on top of a manuscript's marginal arabesque decoration, @medievalbecky Why are angels circling the Heaven anticlockwise? Because they are left-wing. One of the myths about the Middle Ages which still finds traction and detraction - sorry, detractors today is that medieval thinkers were obsessed with angels. Also with pins. And... Continue Reading →


To stay in circulation, books need copies. A book which stops being copied will slowly disappear. In the Middle Ages, the rate of disappearance of books copied by hand was extremely high. As the literate demand for books almost always outstripped the supply of manuscripts, books copied in insufficient numbers would quickly fall out of... Continue Reading →

The medieval availability bias

The Woman Clothed with the Sun, Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS Vitrina 14-2, 187r (11th century) The shortest way may not be the best, but it's the most convenient. A shortcut may not actually get you where you want, but the promise it makes is too hard to say no to. Humans are great shortcurt makers,... Continue Reading →

The emperor’s clothes

According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Julius Caesar used to conceal his receding hairline with a laurel wreath. A convenient trick of cosmetic and political proportions. Many autocrats have since sought to divert attention from their own insecurities by trying to promote the opposite idea: that the strength emanating from their own personalities and their... Continue Reading →

Finding Nero

Young Nero, long before everything went south for the emperor (2021, British Museum, my photo) There are two ways to rediscover ancient historical figures: the Humanist-critical way and the postmodern-revisionist way. The scholars of the Renaissance rediscovered, at least in their own mind, the figures of antiquity by returning to the sources. Our ages rediscovers,... Continue Reading →

An offal story

Prometheus by Theodoor Rombouts (1597-1637), in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium The first thing Prometheus did after he stole fire from the gods was to cook meat for everyone on Earth. He then tricked Zeus who had demanded his fair share of all meats consumed by offering him only offal. Retaliation was... Continue Reading →

Fact is fiction: Black Bear reviewed

The crash limit of reality is where fiction begins. This seems to be the thesis of Lawrence Michael Levine's latest film Black Bear, a twin-speed story about the challenges of film-making, when the dividing lines between writer, director and actor suddenly evaporate, rendering life captive to fiction and fiction a hostage to reality. When a... Continue Reading →

The tipping point

One of the most widespread uses of artificial intelligence and machine learning nowadays is that of image recognition. Computers learn to recognise images by using artificial neural networks which help establish relationships between the members of a dataset. It is an approach that seeks to mimic the way the human brain works. More data, more... Continue Reading →

New ideas driving out the old

The medieval period was a period of forceful disputation. Ideas competed for adoption in the market place, careers were done and undone as thinkers experimented and speculated, often dangerously. Innovation was a frequent flyer. It is the privilege of novelty to displace what’s already there. The new generation replacing the old. One goes, the other... Continue Reading →

Imperceptible change

The classics were still classy in the MIddle Ages. An ancient portrait of Seneca the Younger standing high over a 9th century manuscript of the Apocolocyntosis, Seneca's satire on the Roman emperor Claudius, St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 569 (arrangement by the British Museum) A textbook definition of Renaissance humanism is that of a period of... Continue Reading →

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