This is not a medieval woodcut!
June 9, 2002 9:17 PM   Subscribe

This is not a medieval woodcut! Though it appears everywhere, this particular woodcut has been repeatedly mis-identified and used most often to support the idea that the medieval world thought the earth was flat, an idea whose inception can be traced to this man, a fiction writer who not only wrote this but also this.
posted by vacapinta (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for the links vacapinta. And so the uphill battle against historical revisionism continues.

It makes sense that people who could make maps and navigate around the world would know it was round. It was a geocentric vs heliocentric debate.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:30 PM on June 9, 2002

Fascinating set of links, vacapinta. It should be an interesting read to get through all of them.

One mistake people make is to assume that past methods/styles of imaging necessarily literally reflect the ideas and thoughts of the culture that produced them. This is not always the case. To the eyes of modern man (19th century-present, i.e. post photography) images are often assumed to be observed representations first and foremost. But earlier methods of imaging, especially pre-Renaissance, were more often allegorical cyphers than literal representations of either the visible or idelogical world. To base assumptions about a culture's perceptions on one image alone is rather foolhardy.

Thanks for the links!
posted by evanizer at 9:40 PM on June 9, 2002

I find it interesting how we borrow images and ideas in our culture sometimes assuming that "someone else" has authenticated them. The story of this woodcut is the story of cultural appropriation and one mans search for authenticity and origins. See in particular the section on visual rhetoric.
posted by vacapinta at 9:40 PM on June 9, 2002

Wow, that's really fascinating. As the link's author says, this image has been very widely reproduced and is now another pop culture graphic icon, like those damnable Raphael cherubs. Like most people, I suppose, I had always assumed that it was a medieval woodcut, and it's interesting to learn that it isn't. Thanks for the links, vacapinta.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:58 PM on June 9, 2002

I always figured it was old (I would have thought it to have originated during the renaissance) but never really thought about it, it's just so ubiquitous. I still like the image though, It’s damned appealing (unlike Raphael’s cherubs).

The tease at the end of the first linked article — Coming soon! documentary evidence for medieval understanding of the shape of the earth... does seem like overkill though. We get it.

(this reminds me of this thread)
posted by sherman at 11:44 PM on June 9, 2002

I thought is was just Discworld cover art.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 3:15 AM on June 10, 2002

Could someone explain to me how this could be interpreted as a representation of a flat earth? I must be missing something....
posted by rushmc at 6:32 AM on June 10, 2002

I've loved this piece ever since I saw it on the cover of a Daniel J Boorstyn book. Even considered having part of it tattoo'd....

Only considered, mind you.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:31 AM on June 10, 2002

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