The proposed paper examines the role of imprints – whether animal, human, or angelic – in defining sacred places during the central Middle Ages. These highly-charged points of contact between the animate and the inanimate will be discussed with reference to surviving examples and to hagiographical, artistic, and cartographic sources. Particular attention will be paid to the implications of exposing and venerating marks in the naked rock, in contrast to traditions of ecclesiastical pavement decoration, in which the earth was covered over in areas of heightened sanctity. In this way the paper aims to relate attitudes to the natural world to concepts of holy ground.
The abbey of Saint-Savin shows Romanesque mural paintings which are renowned for the cycle of Genesis and Exodus. Yet, what is unusual is the depiction of nature scenes. In the middle of the cycle one finds four scenes, nonexistent in the original biblical text, that show trees, animals and also an episode of the Aesopian fable. Do these scenes refer to divine creation or can they be considered as belonging to the so-called ‘marginal art’? My paper intends to interpret these scenes as an attempt to facilitate the act of reading for the pilgrims by adding carnivalesque aspects.
Marie de France’s fable De l’asne et du chien is not the Aesopian fable of the same name; in Marie’s version, the ass’ work life is sympathetically portrayed. More than sympathy is bestowed by two priests on their faithful asses in two fabliaux. But the epitome of consideration for the medieval ass is the Feast of the Ass celebrated in French churches in the late middle ages. Was this festival a Bakhtinian reversal that made the classical dumb ass king of an upside-down world or was it an outgrowth of biblical images in sermons and Romanesque sculpture?
Foliate sculpture flourished as a new genre of architectural decoration in 13th‑century Paris, extending from marginal spaces into prominent locations that were usually designated for figurative imagery. Replacing complex iconography, sculpted leaves, flowers, fruits, and fauna appeared on church portals, in archivolts, intercolumniar embrasures, and trumeaux. Similarly, classical mouldings and flat wall expanses gave way to lush garden imagery in interior spaces. Equally remarkable, this sculpture exhibited botanically correct naturalistic forms. It became a veritable artistic trend, and a great number of new buildings were decorated in this fashion starting around 1230 in and around Paris. Does this sculpture exhibit an association to established artistic practices or a new mimetic tendency? This paper examines the formal qualities of this new genre as a means to discern the possible sources and contexts that contributed to the naturalistic turn in 13th‑century French art.