it's a bird, it's a plane, it's Agostino Novello


Daniel Albright, in his highly recommended new book Panaesthetics, discusses this pair of 14th Century altarpiece paintings by Simone Martini, in Siena, Italy. Albright considers how Martini treats time in the paintings. The top image doesn't show a single event, or scene, but works rather like a series of comic book panels. On the left, a vicious dog mauls a little girl. In the center, the Blessed Agostino Novello (who was being promoted as a candidate for sainthood in Siena) swoops down from the ceiling, with his "jet trail" somewhat awkwardly hidden behind a building. On the right, the girl is saved and in the bosom of her thankful family.


A second example employs a similar narrative logic, with Agostino displayed much more prominently as he saves a falling girl -- and even grabs the plank from her balcony lest it strike a passerby (Spider-Man would use his webbing for that latter bit). Renaissance perspective hadn't been invented yet, and the odd jumble of buildings contributes to the cockeyed strangeness, but also charm, of this scenario. These are two of the most beguiling paintings I've seen, in jpeg form or otherwise -- nice to look at, and as fun as a summer blockbuster (more fun because they are quiet).