Title: A Day in a Medieval City
Author: Chiara Frugoni
Genre: Non-fiction; History
An opportunity to experience the daily hustle and bustle of life in the late Middle Ages, A Day in a Medieval City provides a captivating dawn-to-dark account of medieval life. A visual trek through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries—with seasoned historian and expert on medieval iconography Chiara Frugoni as guide—this book offers a vast array of images and vignettes that depicts the everyday hardships and commonplace pleasures for people living in the Middle Ages.
A Day in a Medieval City breathes life into the activities of the city streets, homes, fields, schools, and places of worship. With entertaining anecdotes and gritty details, it engages the modern reader with its discoveries of the religious, economic, and institutional practices of the day. From urban planning and education to child care, hygiene, and the more leisurely pursuits of games, food, books, and superstitions, Frugoni unearths the daily routines of the private and public lives of citizens. A Day in a Medieval City is a charming portal to the Middle Ages that you’ll surely want with you on your travels to Europe—or in your armchair. (from Goodreads)
Thoughts: A Day in a Medieval City tells the story of its title: it describes the day-to-day going on’s in a generic medieval city in Europe. From doctors and health, childbirth, hygiene, and games, Frugoni brings to life the streets, alleyways, and houses of a medieval city to life in full-bursting color and sound.
I enjoyed this book but not in the way I expected. Instead of detailing daily life in a city in a narrative, the author examines paintings of the period to glean information about daily living. Many of the paintings involve saints and their miracles, the Holy Family, or scenes from the Decameron. While examining the paintings, she relates either the story of the saint’s miracle or the tale in the Decameron that the picture corresponds to. There are over 100 pictures of paintings in the book- nearly one for each page- and they are all in color. Very rarely does she use pictures of actual objects, for example, some relics of children’s toys from the era that have survived. So although Frugoni does describe various aspects of city life, the information she presents is limited because she has chosen to divulge it solely from pictorial representatives and not from other sources. I admit I was hoping for more information on ordinary life in a medieval city and was not expecting the summaries, sometimes long, of the tales and stories that the paintings are based on.
Sometimes I did feel that she relied too heavily on pictures; for example, she haw two chapters on reading and reading based paintings- the average citizen at the time was illiterate and so I felt that this wasn’t necessary and detracted from the theme of the book. As for a description of the city itself and what you would normally find in one, this was mostly confined to one chapter, albeit the longest one. This is a short book and I felt that in some ways the title was misleading.. However, the pictures themselves are so beautiful, and the effect they have in ‘setting the scene’ is so nice, that while reading I didn’t overly mind that the book went in a different direction then I expected.
I was touched by the author’s note at the beginning where she describes that her father and her brother died in a car crash in the 70s. Among her father’s effects there were two small papers he had written concerning life in a medieval city. Frugoni combined these two works and used them as the introduction to the book. The rest of the book is merely an expansion of her father’s papers. I thought this was a very sweet way to honor her father and his memory. I also very much enjoyed the introduction which was a nice bonus.
If you are looking to know the day-to-day of life in a medieval city, I would hesitate to recommend this. But if you are interested in medieval art and what it can say about medieval man then this would be a great book to pick up. The pictures in the book are gorgeous!