the brain cognizing itself


From the earliest, all the Renaissance arts showed a newfound expressiveness, a delicacy of feeling… In the visual arts this was manifest from Giotto onwards in a preoccupation with the expressive powers of the human face in particular… It will be remembered…that during the Renaissance there was a peak in left-facing (right-hemisphere favoring) profiles in portraiture.

Intriguingly, there appears to have been a marked shift, according to James Hall, in the way the left and right sides of the body were viewed at around this time. The traditional view of the left side as, literally, sinister would appear to have softened at the Renaissance, and given way to an intuitive sense of its positive qualities. According to Hall, ‘the superior beauty of the left hand was an important opponent of the courtly love tradition’…As the Renaissance unfolded, the claims of the left side were advanced at the expense of the right; it was seen as the more beautiful side – finer, more gentle, more truthful, more in touch with feeling. The entire left side of the body took on a cast of beauty, truthfulness, and fragility. Given that it was centuries too early for these views to be influenced by knowledge of hemisphere different, it looks like another possible instance of the brain intuitively cognising itself.*


The Master and his Emissary

Iain McGilchrist


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