An exhibition called Dreams in the Renaissance is at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence until September; then it moves to Musee de Luxembourg Paris until January 2014.
It includes The Vision of Tundale from the Muzeo Lazaro Galdiano in Madrid, an hallucinatory Boschian panorama by an unknown artist of the 1520s. A sleeping sinner called Tundale is at the lower left, dreaming images of paradise and hellfire. Hopefully there was sufficient warning of what would happen if he didn’t repent.
About four hundred years later Sigmund Freud said that dreams carry our hidden desires and Carl Jung added that they carry meaning, although not always of desire, and that these dreams can be interpreted by the dreamer. In 1942, Edgar Cayce suggested that dreams build up images of mental, spiritual and physical well-being. He echoed William Blake with memories of Jacob’s Ladder from the Old Testament:
Not until 1977 were experimental results available, from the work of Allan Hobson who suggested that brain currents are activated during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
Then came an argument between Chris Evans’ theory (1964) and the Francis Crick and Graeme Mitchinson theory published in 1983. Evans argued that dreaming was how the vast amount of information gained during the day gets stored. In contrast, Crick and Mitchinson suggested that this information was being dumped rather than stored.
In this month’s edition of the scientific journal Current Biology further confusion is thrown on these causes by the neurobiologist Christian Cojochen at the University of Basel. He finds a connection between sleep patterns and the lunar cycle by testing 33 people in a sleep laboratory, and correlating the data with the moon’s phases.
Melatonin levels, total sleep time and the deepest delta sleep time reached their lowest levels at full moon, and their highest as the moon waxed and waned. REM sleep and dreaming peaked at the full moon and were shorter as it waxed and waned. “The only explanation we could come up with is that maybe there is a lunar clock in the brain, as found in other species like fish and other marine animals,” he said. “But we don’t have direct evidence for that.”
In 1910 the post-impressionist naive painter Henri Rousseau completed The Dream, detailed on the left below.
Another version, above right, shows you can never be sure who is the dreamer.