Recceswinth's 7th c. votive crown + Visigoth trendsetting

This votive crown, from the Treasure of Guarrazar, belonged to Recceswinth, the early medieval Visigoth King, who ruled from 649-672. Not designed for wear, but rather to hang as votive offerings, these crowns were typical of the Early Middle Ages, although pagan examples also exist. The phrase on the pendilia reads RECCESVINTUVS REX OFFERET, or 'King Recceswinth offered this.' Votive offerings, or deposits, were made for spiritual purposes, either as a thanks, a vow, or to invoke supernatural powers, thus could be anticipatory or ex postfacto; curse tablets, or defixios, were Graeco-Roman sheets made of tin or lead that wished misfortune upon someone, but gratitude was more typical, often including the more recognisable offerings of lit candles, statues, flowers, and jewellery. 

Which pretty much brings us up to speed. Logo jewellery and brandish charms are the modern tribute symbol par excellence, the simplest and most effective way to delineate your in-group out-group divide and identify with all that the symbol represents. Our example from over 1,300 years ago offered to God and required enormous amounts of wealth, whilst our modern day deposits, though requiring similar $$ contributions, seem to offer to no-one. Their prêt-à-porter symbols seem to be tributes to money itself, which negatively offer by way of presenting to others their exclusion from the club. This phenomenon is most interesting is its excess, which that holy subgenre of hip hop, gansta rap, displays with more ambiguity than Damien Hirst's diamond skull. 

Whilst the popularity of Chanel, Tiffany, D&G, LV logos, wearable as charms, are relatively simple status symbols, For the Love of God, Hirst's memento mori is less so. Gangsta rap and hip hop branding, including the obvious irony of the Beastie Boys sporting a non-luxury brand VW logo, play with the same ambiguities, smile the same knowing smile. The irony is so inbuilt that it is hard to be either repulsed or admiring for long; a confused whirring between the two is the probably the most appropriate response to such an obvious play with symbolic meaning. Fittingly, the slang term playa usually refers to men who use minimal effort to get what they want from women, or to those who play the life game and come out on top; power, money, status. Recceswinth was, I'm sure, playing for similar rewards, only whose particulars have changed over the centuries. Don't hate the playa, hate the game? Perhaps. Exploiting the symbol to the point of crassness is at least more eye-opening than the banal toting of coy arm and throat candy. 

better beasts... the Ashmole Bestiary

The Ashmole Bestiary, held in the Bodleian Library, London, is a late 12th century or early 13th century illustrated text packed with allegorical descriptions and depictions of beasts, birds, fish, and insects. It also includes such mythical creatures as the Bonnacon, or the Bonasus (the last in the series of illustrations above), whose volcanic tush is to be much-feared. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historia, explains it thus:
There are reports of a wild animal in Paionia called the bonasus, which has the mane of a horse, but in all other respects resembles a bull; its horns are curved back in such a manner as to be of no use for fighting, and it is said that because of this it saves itself by running away, meanwhile emitting a trail of dung that sometimes covers a distance of as much as three furlongs [604 m], contact with which scorches pursuers like a sort of fire.
Medieval art is renowned for its schematic rather than naturalistic depiction, which most scholars agree fits with a spiritual rendering. Illustrated texts of this period placed more emphasis on spiritual-symbolic-realism rather than terra-scientific-realism, which is why Our Heavenlies appear larger than their mortal counterparts. Suiting formal planar devices – boundaries, positions, directions, proportions, and perspectives – to a spiritual and moral doctrine was commonplace. Whilst medieval artists and patrons of the arts often expressed admiration for classical sculpture's likeness (and sometimes improvement on) the 'real thing,' scholars and ofttimes-pesky men of the church believed it an offence to God to make verisimilitudes. Augustine of Hippo and others like Meister Eckhart agreed that a naturalistic art, made "according to the eyes and only for the eyes"†, was an attempt to rival the Creator, and anyway, would not succeed because mere man could only get as close as a substandard copy (which, it must be pointed out, would rile the Almighty even further).

Hubris and poor imitation aside, images were problematic for another reason. As the literature of the illiterate, the poor read in them what they could not read in books, which made them potent aides to doctrine. The fear, of course, is that they may be too potent and become objects of worship themselves. Iconoclasts, who sought to end the idolatrous veneration of images by destroying said images, could sometimes be placated by representational theories; some Byzantine scholars talked of the space between the paint and the viewer as being occupied with spirit, rather than something in the material itself, and certain medieval scholars downplayed the importance of the image to such a degree that it apparently held no power at all. The Libri Carolini, the middle age's bible (pun apologies) of representational aesthetics goes so far as to declare that a statue of Venus and the Virgin are formally and materially equal, but it is their inscriptions that differ† – and this is what matters. Whatever the case, the beasts of Ashmole are all the better for it.

† 'Meister Eckhart's Views on Art' in The Transformation of Nature in Art (1956)

† Book IV, chapter 16

the wonderful faces of Piero della Francesca

Piero della Francesca (1415-1492) was an early Italian Renaissance painter whose faces epitomised the humanist ideal that would become the hallmark of this creative period. Interestingly, his portrayal of a baby Christ marks the beginning of a general wane in Western art of the adult-faced infans Son of God. The knowing child-Christ, whose upraised hand signifies a wisdom that no child can possess and the foreknowledge that no man can, slowly begins to soften into the embrace of his mother and become a natural child, innocent of knowledge and the horrors of the earthly world that lie in wait.

He says, reaching for a cigarette; Tarkovsky's Nostalghia