Tents and Crucifixions

or: the Print I Thought I'd Never See

When I first started Dragonwing, my first task was to find out, as far as possible, what medieval pavilions actually looked like. So I spent hundreds of hours in libraries (most notably the San Francisco Public Library) looking through hundreds of books of medieval art. I was eventually rewarded with quite a few pictures of artwork showing tentage, but not before I had seen what must have been thousands and thousands of non-tent pictures.

The predominant theme, of course, was religious art ... predominantly pictures of the Crucifixion. After seeing what was probably my hundredth crucifixion picture, with hundreds more yet to examine, I remember thinking how much easier it would have been if the Gospels had mentioned something about tents in the Crucifixion story. I fantasized about a scripture something like "And yea, they took Him and crucified Him, at the place which is called the Camping Place; before many large tents was His cross." I could have been out of there in an hour and a half.

But it was not to be, of course. I had to complete my labors without such conveniences, and eventually gave up any hopes of ever finding such a picture. It was therefore with some surprise that I came across the following print last Christmas.

There it was! Just as I had imagined it! (The original for this picture, by Lucas Cranach the Younger, dates from 1555 and can be found in Weimar, Germany. I take it that he is faithfully reproducing the tents of his own time, although the fact that he painted his pal Martin Luther into the scene does not inspire faith in his historical credibility.) By this time, I had collected enough pictures to have been pretty familiar with this sort of tent; in fact, these tents are pretty run-of-the-mill for sixteenth-century Germany. For those of you who are interested in tents (and if you're not, why are you here?), here's an enlargement of the tent area of the print:

What made this print special for me was that by the time I came across it, it was no longer a picture of the Crucifixion with some tents in it, but a picture of some tents with a Crucifixion in it. Maybe this is what people mean when they say how the SCA changes your perception of things.

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