IMC 2012: Sessions

Session 816: At the Edge of Rules: Jesters, Visionaries, and Sorcerers

Tuesday 10 July 2012, 16.30-18.00

Moderator/Chair:Jörg Sonntag, Forschungsstelle für Vergleichende Ordensgeschichte (FOVOG), Technische Universität Dresden
Paper 816-aOut of Rules: 'Jester's Miracle' as a Paradigm of Social Revenge
(Language: English)
Stefano Martinelli, Università di Pisa
Index terms: Art History - General, Ecclesiastical History, Mentalities, Performance Arts - General
Paper 816-b'Quanto secretior tanto melior': Secret Rules of a Sorcerer
(Language: English)
Lauri Ockenström, Department of Music, Art & Culture Studies, University of Jyväskylä
Index terms: Art History - General, Medicine, Pagan Religions, Sexuality

Paper -a:
During the Middle Ages, the Church openly kept a hostile attitude to the social category of jesters. The disapproval was of a moral kind, since the Church recognized that jesters were the essence of perdition, corruption of morals, and earthly frivolity. In the ecclesiastical sources the jester is defined turpis, that is misshapen. His deformity is both physical and moral: it refers not only to the alteration of jester’s physique due to the unnatural gesticulating he made during the shows, but also to his moral degradation that lowered him to the level of beasts. The jester was subhuman, so that he could not even be enumerated among sinners, who kept the hope of redemption. On the contrary, he was barred from any possibility of salvation. Between the 12th and 13th centuries, poor jesters became protagonists of miracles involving statues and images of the Virgin, like the famous Notre-Dame de Rocamadour and also the Volto Santo of Lucca, one of the best known christological images of the West. ‘Jester’s miracles’ were very popular, both in literature and figurative arts, through late medieval Europe and became the paradigm of the social revenge of the entire category. The analogies between these tales invite a comparative study, since they reveal the real importance of jesters in medieval society.

Paper -b:
From the 13th century on a tiny but inspiring group of astrologically orientated spellbooks circulated in Western Europe underneath the surface of Catholic rule. Treatises like the Picatrix and Thebits’s De imaginibus, usually translated from Arabic into Latin and transcribed in rather gloomy manuscripts, offered detailed instructions for fabrication of diverse magical figures or images for varying purposes. The amulets were applied widely in fields of everyday life from politics, warfare, economics, agriculture, and hunting to more private sectors of welfare, health, love, and sexuality. In every case the image magic was determined by codes and rules, including exact astrological timings and strict iconographical instructions based on demands of similitude. The most important rule was the requirement of keeping the instructions secret, which seem to reflect the animistic anxiety that magic would lose its efficacy if practiced openly.