ANST - aesthetics and function

dennis grace amazing at
Tue Aug 19 07:38:00 PDT 1997

Salut, Cozyns,

Lyonel aisai.

Baron Bors opines:

>The beautifully tooled and dyed
>peice of leather vanbrace may look nice but if the leather is to lite to
>deflect a blow then it shouldn't rate as well as an undecorated leather
>vanbrace that has the same quality of construction but of heavier leather.
> The second piece works and the first ,although pretty , doesn't.
>   These are only my opinions and they will never be considered because too
>many people are into the pretty and not into the practical.

Begging His Excellency's pardon, but--balderdash.  

First, this argument appears to be creating a false dichotomy:  pretty vs.
functional.  As another gentle already noted, one of the few relative social
constants in Medieval European courts is that aesthetic value was prized as
highly as--sometimes more highly than --functionality.  Ever read _Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight_?  The poet is more concerned with the
appearance of Gawain's armor than its functionality.  Likewise, read
Chretien de Troyes' _Percival_.  Gawain is tested with a bed, a luxurious
and finely wrought bed (posts of gold, cords of silver, a bell where each
cord crossed another, carbuncles on the bedposts, a samite cover).  He is
expected, as a high-born knight to insist upon his right to sleep in the
best bed, even though his life is endangered thereby.  He sits upon the bed
and takes a number of arrows fired from holes in the walls.  Thus--as looney
as this sounds to a modern reader--he *passes* the test.  Noblemen were
expected to appreciate the fine and beautiful.  Look at Sir Lanval--his
great crime is poverty.  A well-made vambrace, you see, for anyone above the
common soldiery would have been beautiful as well as functional.  

Second, even from a modern perspective, "pretty" doesn't preclude
"functional."  Aesthetic concerns, I will admit, *can* overwhelm
functionality.  Too deeply etching metal embrittles it, and too deeply
tooling leather can make it tear more easily.  On the other hand, rolling,
dishing, and fluting steel armor tends to strengthen it:  improving
aesthetics can actually *improve* functionality.

Third, given a choice between a functional ugly leather vambrace and a
non-functional but beautifully tooled leather vambrace, the latter would be
more likely (all things--documentation and presentation and so forth--being
otherwise equal) to win in a leather working category.  After all, Medieval
ceremonial and processional armor was seldom "functional" as combat armor.
Now, it's true, I wouldn't want to wear the latter into combat, but that's
not the purpose of processional armor.  Remember, however, that the
documentation has to support such a function.  If (and perhaps this is the
point Baron Bors intended to make) a leather worker submits a beautifully
tooled but clearly inadequate vambrace in the leather working category but
her documentation claims the item would have been used in combat, then that
item should certainly lose points.

Back on the topic of the catapults, I'm curious, how have Ansteorran A&S
competitions treated the judging of siege weaponry?  Artemisian siege
engines were so rare that I don't remember ever seeing a full-scale catapult
or trebuchet in an A&S competition.  Seems to me you'd have to fire a
mangonel or ballista in order to test it.  Do the judges test siege weapons
for accuracy, loft, distance, reloading time?  If not, how can you
adequately judge these critters?  I've seen some really sharp *looking*
catapults that just fired rocks into the ground immediately in front of them
or flipped themselves when fired.

Hey, Gnith, you entering Jezebel in A&S?

lo vostre por vos servir
Sir Lyonel Oliver Grace
Dennis Grace
University of Texas at Austin
English Department
Recovering Medievalist
amazing at

Micel yfel deth se unwritere.
                           AElfric of York


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