Jousting isn't sport, it's a crazy art. Think Game of Thrones, then double it
Source:theguardian Author:Jonathan Jones Date: 2016-07-28 Size:
If jousting becomes an Olympic sport, as apparently it may, it will be……

‘Jousting was so popular it shaped how artists imagined war itself’ … The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475).

If jousting becomes an Olympic sport, as apparently it may, it will be very good news for art. Perhaps we are about to see a new aesthetic era of sport, when rich heraldry and Arthurian imagery will replace relentless commercialism.

This medieval mock combat in which armoured knights ride at each other with breakable wooden lances was never just about winning or fitness. It was about the costumes – feathered finery, painted shields, bizarre helmets – and, of course, the sexual flirtation. It was about turning life into a work of art.

Jousts were elaborate performance art happenings that imagined war as a fantastical game. Think Game of Thrones, then double it. That’s how over the top jousting was. Participants wore utterly surreal armour. In 1514, the Emperor Maximilian gave the keen jouster Henry VIII a suit of sporting armour with a helmet shaped like a grotesque mask. This helmet, which still survives in the Royal Armouries, has spiralling horns like a goat and wears a pair of spectacles on its big-nosed, toothy face. Other jousting helmets imitated lions or dragons or had absurdly ornate crests.

Armourers were given licence to go nuts. Great artists were employed to add to the joust’s magnificence. Henry VIII’s horned helmet is only one of his surviving jousting accessories. His court artist Hans Holbein designed beautiful tournament armour for him, covered with fine filigree decorations. Another court artist, Leonardo da Vinci, created costumes and scenery – including attendants dressed as hairy wild men – for jousts at the Sforza castle in Milan, and also invented a tank that he noted would be good for jousting.

King Henry VIII’s horned jousting helmet, presented to him by Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1514.

Not even Game of Thrones has imagined, as Leonardo did, knights fighting for entertainment in wooden tanks. There’s a fine realistic portrayal of a joust in 15th-century Florence painted on a marriage chest in the National Gallery, London, that shows the wealthy youths of Florence going at one another on the city’s Piazza Croce while women watch from all the windows along the square. This painting helps to explain why so much was invested in this military sport.

It was all about sex. Those long lances were hugely symbolic. Men were trying to impress women. This was made explicit in Renaissance Florence, where the poet Angelo Poliziano wrote a long poem about the glamorous and stupendously expensive Joust of Giuliano de’ Medici. This fancy happening celebrated Giuliano’s passion for local beauty Simonetta Vespucci. It boasted decorations by Sandro Botticelli, no less, who also painted Vespucci and whose enigmatic masterpiece Primavera may be an allegory of this chivalrous occasion.

Jousting was so popular it shaped how artists imagined war itself. Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano looks nothing like a real battle. With its bright banners and flamboyant helmet plumes and litter of broken lances, it is a fantastical joust. Uccello had seen jousts, not battles – and anyway, he was gratifying the eyes of the jousting class. It worked. The Medici family loved Uccello’s three paintings of this chivalrous battle so much that they confiscated them for their palace.

Leonardo da Vinci’s The Battle of Anghiari, reconstruced by Rubens.

Leonardo da Vinci’s lost Battle of Anghiari was a much darker vision of war as a viciously psychotic death struggle – but it, too, was inspired by jousting. In a great reconstruction by Rubens the knights wear monstrous helmets and animal-like armour as they try to chop each other to bits. Leonardo’s macabre fantasy fed back into jousting as mannerist armourers such as the Negroni family produced real armour inspired by his weird inventions.

The problem with jousting as an Olympic sport is that it is a stylised art of war. It is genuinely dangerous. When Piero della Francesca portrayed the great Renaissance ruler Federigo da Montefeltro, he showed him in classical profile. This was because Federigo had lost his right eye in a jousting accident. Watch out for those splinters. It could all get out of hand. Drugged up national teams might end up fighting mad melees in surreal armour, like a hyperbolic Leonardesque nightmare battle. On second thoughts, perhaps synchronised swimming is safer.

[Editor] 张艳

    Artintern