SFX c.1350

Many find modern-day movies’ special effects (SFX) fascinating. But a new study in the Journal of Visual Culture queries just how new this fascination might be, asking –

“ … is it possible to find an analog to this contemporary fascination in the visual culture of the Middle Ages?”

Alison Griffiths, Professor of Media Studies, Documentary Film, and Media and Technology at the Department of Communication Studies, Baruch college (City University of New York) explains that the so-called ‘hey’ moments – when modern-day movie-goers might express wonder at movie effects – are nothing new.

“This ‘hey’ moment, I argue in this essay, has a tremendously long history, and is by no means exclusive to cinema; indeed, the power of images to move spectators, to make them gasp, seems especially potent during the medieval period.”

And thus –

“When our knuckles turn white during sequences of thrilling cinematic special effects, we may simply be rehearsing a very old fascination with seeing and (dis)-believing that goes back at least to the Middle Ages.”

The paper Wonder, Magic and the Fantastical Margins: Medieval Visual Culture and Cinematic Special Effects can be found in the

Journal of Visual Culture August 2010, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 163-188


Although any possible copyright on the originals of the featured medieval SFX images expired several centuries ago, the British Library, the Pierpoint Morgan Library, and others claim copyright on the new copies which they have made from the originals. And so the copies (of the out-of-copyright images), such as ‘Beast/monster with five heads’ and ‘Bull milking a woman’ cannot be reproduced (again) without permission. Therefore, Improbable has retraced its own copy of a sample image ‘Headless men fighting with one man holding his head’ which is featured in the paper (as show above).

The original can be viewed here ( at bottom r.h. margin )

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