The Ages of Man and the Concepts of Time in Italian Trecento

Prof. Dr. Andrea von Hülsen-Esch

Age(ing) is one of the basic biological conditions of human life. As a stage of life, what is understood as ‘old age’ is at the same time a social and cultural construction by means of which everyday life, social contexts and biographical perspectives are structured. At the same time, visual representations and artefacts, as part of our culture, are also part of a treasure trove of forms that have entered our collective memory in a culture-specific way and shape our current ideas about age(ing). A cursory survey of representations of the stages of life in illuminated manuscripts up to the 15th century suggests that the choice of certain divisions of the age of life – into three, four, six, seven, ten sections – was obviously made in connection with specific issues. Although the age divisions suggest order and predictability in the human life cycle, dividing it into sections in a meaningful way in relation to nature, the cosmos or salvation history, both the references to different time systems (cosmic, biblical, salvation-historical) and the forms of representation change. Based on my recent research on the Book of Hours of Francesco da Barberino (Padua, 1304–1309), I would like to investigate, on the basis of medieval illuminated manuscripts of the 13th–15th centuries (Psalters, Books of Hours, Encyclopaedias, etc.), by what means the number of different ages in the pictorial representation is influenced, which temporal rhythms and conceptions of time are connected with it, and in which way already in the Middle Ages gender-specific constructions of ages correspond to the social constructions of medieval society.

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