Donald La Rocca, curator of arms and armor at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, sent me this view of his armor hall as it looked in 1967, about the time I first came across it as a small child. I can honestly say that that experience changed my life, helping to send me on a chase for all things medieval that lasted well into adulthood. (Getting me to dress in full medieval regalia as I rode my bike around our apartment complex; decades later, getting me to read a vast pile of 10th-century Lombard land contracts – in Latin.) I’ve been thinking a lot about medievalism recently, even to the point of rereading Walter Scott’s goofy “Ivanhoe”. But I’m still not sure how it is that modern European culture has built such a strong notion of something called “The Middle Ages”, when it has so little to do with how things ever were. Does it have to do with the fact that humans, as social animals, are wired to ascribe a coherent, person-like “character” to almost anything we come across, including a remote period in history?
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