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Why are ‘spaceships’ in so many Medieval art pictures?

Medieval art can at times surprise you, with its rich colors and expressive subjects. But at times, you happen to be also caught off guard by the shock of noticing the presence of a guy in a spaceship in a painting of the crucifixion. Find out why there are so many UFOs in paintings from hundreds of years ago.

So, you are wandering about the streets of Metohia, Yugoslavia, as one does, and make a decision to devote some time in the Visoki Decani Monastery. You take in the atmosphere slowly, looking at the thickness of the walls — built in 1330 and still standing — and the wooden sarcophagus of King Stefan. And gradually you come up to the altar, searching at the fresco above it. Reading the informational sign next to it, you see that it was completed in 1350, which, you think, is fine, but could a person explain to you why someone in 1350 was doodling space ships above the scene of the crucifixion?

To the left of Jesus, in the sky, is a thing that looks like a comet with a multifaceted trail behind it. One side, though, is transparent, and inside sits a little figure. In the sky on the far right of the painting is one thing that would not look out of spot in a drawing from the height of the 1960s space age. There’s a rounded ship with a pointed nose cone in front, a transparent scooped window for a cockpit, and three turrets in the back that look like landing struts. The shape and aesthetic are so familiar that it really is impossible to read as anything other than a spaceship.

That instance is what folks first point to when they talk about UFOs in medieval art, but it really is not the only issue they point to. In other artwork there are golden disks shooting down lights that look like tractor beams onto the faithful. There are random ovals, with what look like wires coming out of them, over the shoulder of the Virgin Mary while she’s holding the baby Jesus. There are disks in the sky in some paintings and what look like crude photos of the flying saucer in the “I Want To Believe” poster above people’s heads in other people.

But the space ship in the Decani fresco is the most apparent picture of what we would assume of as a spaceship. What are they?

Most specialists agree that the resemblance of the factors in the painting to the spacecraft imagined by modern day science fiction artists is uncanny. But none of our personal actual spaceships really resemble what we see in the paintings. None of these paintings show factors that look like planes or landers or even satellites. Instead, they show artists’ conceptions of the sort of spaceships that would look excellent in art.

And centuries ago, they also looked good in art. The only difference was, then the art depicted the presence of the Holy Spirit. Even if an artist saw UFOs flying around, this was a church-commissioned painting on a church wall. The church got the say in what went up on it, not the painter. When the church wanted a depiction of the (forgive the expression) alien presence of God in everyday life, and the painter came up with a style that worked. Similarly, when editors of science fiction pulp magazines wanted a cover picture depicting alien ships coming to Earth, the artist came up with a design that worked. The convergence of the pictures isn’t one of experience, but of artistic sensibilities.

We feel. There is one piece of art, a woodcut, that challenges this “artistic sensibilities” thought, however. In the 1500s, once the church did not have the market place cornered on art and artists began generally painting for private citizens or even for themselves, artist Hans Glaser made a woodcut of a sky filled with different shaped objects. Once again there were disks. There were also lengthy tubes, bulbous crosses, and arcing streaks. This woodcut looked far stranger than anything noticed in earlier paintings, but it depicted a scene that numerous men and women saw above Nuremburg. They saw tubes and crosses starting to fight one another, and shoot fire at each other. The scene was crudely recreated, but it wasn’t any conceptual representation of the Holy Spirit.

So what do these flying space ships in early paintings represent? Possibly precisely what historians think they do. Medieval folks noticed comets in the sky just like any other group. They saw the northern lights, and eruptions of marsh gas, and every thing folks today generally mistake for UFOs. Their interpretation of these things simply differed from the modern one. As for what happened in Nuremburg — well, we have only the woodcut to let us know.

Sources and more information:

• Why are there spaceships in Medieval art? [Secret History]

Medieval art can sometimes surprise you, with its rich colors and expressive subjects. But sometimes, you’re also caught off guard by the shock of noticing the presence of a guy in a spaceship in a painting of the crucifixion. Find out why there are so many UFOs in paintings from hundreds of years ago.