The 740 m2 mosaic floor of Otranto Cathedral in southern Italy features three huge trees displayed along the nave and side aisles. Entering from the west, the worshiper steps along the trunks of the trees, with their fascinating ‘fruits’ hanging from their branches. The foliage of these trees incorporates depictions of theological as well as secular themes. Side by side with biblical stories from the Book of Genesis we find the Zodiac and an elaborate cycle of the ‘Works of the Months’. Classical mythology is represented here, among others, by Atlas the Titan bearing the cosmos on his shoulders, while close by the exegesis of human destiny in the afterlife features as well. Hybrid animals are scattered all over, as if the floor were a huge bestiary. We find here kings and warriors, not only biblical ones, but also protagonists of secular tales, such as King Arthur and Alexander the Great. The mosaic floor transformed the church into a privileged space for participating in knowledge, both secular and ecclesiastic, classical and contemporaneous. The floor, employing visual mnemonic devices, offers a systematic depiction of an ideology of knowledge and learning that is monarchical and secular as well as ecclesiastic. The floor thereby constitutes a document attesting to the political-intellectual ideology of the Kingdom of Sicily.
‘Visual indexing’, a result of medieval memory training, is a way of using simple images or symbols in a text to facilitate information retrieval. It had a short but instructive life in 12th and 13th-century England in the works of Ralph of Diceto, Matthew Paris, and Robert Grosseteste, for example. Although text-based indexing systems, such as those based on alphabetical order, are now dominant, visual indexing persists today, not least because it is designed for human minds. In an age when machines do information retrieval, we should reconsider this medieval tool at the border between human and artificial memory.
Representations of different bodies in medieval art had many functions. The images of the martyrs and the body of Christ made memorable and commemorated the sacrifices these holy figures endured through their bodies. Images of Adam and Eve, or other ‘sinful’ humans or beings, helped viewers to remember the consequences of sin. Visualisations of bodies can therefore operate as corporeal systems that facilitate remembrance in several ways. This paper examines the representations of bodies as sites for memory in late medieval wall paintings in Finland and the ways memory became embodied in representation.