The Marvellous and the Monstrous in the Sculpture of Twelfth-Century Europe (Boydell Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture)
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Representations of monsters and the monstrous are common in medieval art and architecture, from the grotesques in the borders of illuminated manuscripts to the symbol of the "green man", widespread in churches and cathedrals. These mysterious depictions are frequently interpreted as embodying or mitigating the fears symptomatic of a "dark age". This book, however, considers an alternative scenario: in what ways did monsters in twelfth-century sculpture help audiences envision, perhaps even achieve, various ambitions? Using examples of Romanesque sculpture from across Europe, with a focus on France and northern Portugal, the author suggests that medieval representations of monsters could service ideals, whether intellectual, political, religious, and social, even as they could simultaneously articulate fears; he argues that their material presence energizes works of art in paradoxical, even contradictory ways. In this way, Romanesque monsters resist containment within modern interpretive categories and offer testimony to the density and nuance of the medieval imagination. Kirk Ambrose is Associate Professor & Chair, Department of Art and Art History, University of Colorado Boulder.
incomplete monolith feature astrological signs and calendrical scenes that likewise have roots in classical traditions. It hardly matters whether the designers of this pier had firsthand knowledge of ancient artistic models, for these established types offered Romanesque designers authoritative building blocks with which they could imaginatively construct a cosmology. Unfortunately, the scant archeological and documentary record associated with this work does not permit us to reconstruct the
significant. Achilles cycles on Late Antique silver plate emphasize the hero’s education and several examples include scenes of Chiron teaching Achilles to hunt.62 Achilles features in several guises in medieval art, but scenes in which he learns to hunt from Chiron are rare.63 A capital along the south aisle of the nave of Vézelay may feature this episode (fig. 15).64 On the left corner of the capital, a youth stands behind a centaur. Both figures have quivers slung across their shoulders and
identification of the scene at right as Samson and the Lion, a story interpreted in medieval exegetical traditions as foreshadowing Christ’s victory over evil. Linda Seidel, however, pointed to the unusual physiognomy of the “lion”, which has a scaled belly, a feature that she argued renders the scene an analogue to the Old Testament story.19 Severe damage to this beast makes its original appearance unknowable, but the artist appears to have combined parts from two different animals just as he
synagogue in Sardis. I am unaware of an ancient altar that features a double-headed eagle, but the medieval sculptor may have emphasized his moralizing point by rendering the eagle monstrous through the addition of a second head, for Romanesque sculptors often carved animals as bicorporates or bicephalics, even tricephalics, as a way to make them monstrous.41 What is more, sculptors in Burgundy occasionally took pains to situate Christian and Pagan or Jewish rituals in terms of one another, as on
representations. Aspects of the carving technique similarly invoke a tension between verisimilitude and historicity, on the one hand, and repetitive patterning and abstraction, on the other. The careful articulation of the locks of wool on the sacrificial lamb or the exacting rendering of the shafts and vanes on each of the eagle’s feathers gestures toward a naturalism at odds with the abstraction of their patterned arrangement. The lithic passages of the human faces, especially Abel’s, assert