It was Francis Petrarch who coined the expression "Dark Ages" to define the confused period from the end of the Roman Empire to what would later be called the Renaissance. It is a period we also call the Middle Ages or Medieval period, following Vasari’s lead, and it still has a bad reputation for being an era of artistic and intellectual darkness, lacking invention and genius. This term, Dark Ages
, is naturally seen as the opposite of the Enlightenment. However, the negative connotation of this historical period, which ends in schoolbooks in 1492, with the "discovery" of America, is now widely questioned by scholars, who prefer to emphasize the advances and achievements in art and thought that took place. In popular culture, however, its murky image persists.
And one of the clichés that frequently crops up concerns illumination, as it is widely believed that people in the Middle Ages went to bed as soon as it got dark. But that was not the case. Evidence for this can be found in the original and fascinating research conducted by the historian Beatrice del Bo, Professor of Medieval Economic and Social History at the University of Milan, recently published under the title, L’età del lume
(The Age of Candlelight - il Mulino). This work, in fact, asks precisely that question: how were domestic environments, public spaces, and life in general illuminated in the Dark Ages? In this history of light, we explore the ingenuity of medieval craftsmen in constructing lighting tools and using them in different ways, from the homes of lords to monastery libraries. It also shows to what extent the opportunity of having light after dark was a status symbol.