Tombs lie at the juncture of interpretations of death, theological doctrine, and individual and communal identity. This study is a new consideration of visual conceptions and depictions of death within the medieval era, a period when notions of death were changing due to altering theological and socio-historical ideas about the relationships between individuality, physical matter, and the soul. In particular, I focus on the phenomenon of cadaver tombs in England and Germany from the mid-15th through the mid-16th century, paying attention to representations of the body, its coverings and attire, and other forms of ornamentation in transi tombs. Their engagement with the viewers and their environments are central to the development of ‘modern’ notions of subjectivity and the role of art within the Early Modern Period.
Despite the prevalence of death in Middle High German epic, few references are made to funerary monuments. The elaborate memorials that peopled the churches of the medieval West seldom appear in German literature of the period. Where they do appear, they are employed as a marker of otherness and the product of a decadent and alluring Muslim East. These monuments mirror the heathens they honour in simultaneously distancing and attracting the poems’ Christian audience. The enduring splendour of the tomb stands in contrast to the all-but-certain damnation of its occupant, and serves thereby as an opportunity for rumination of the possibilities of virtue in the absence of Christian faith. The literary tomb indulges in the glories of worldly honour even as its ultimate worth is called into question. This paper considers three such monuments: the tomb of Kamille in Heinrich von Veldeke’s Eneas, that of Gahmuret in Wolfram’s Parzival, and finally, the monument of Japhite in Wirnt von Grafenberg’s Wigalois.
In 1396 the battle of Nicopolis resulted both in the defeat of the Burgundian duke’s army and the kidnapping of his son, John the Fearless, by the Ottomans. Ultimately, Sultan Beyazit agreed to release him for Flemish tapestries representing ‘good old stories’. The growing Ottoman power in Europe both fascinated and frightened the West. Although connections between these two worlds were established through commercial, cultural and economic exchange, a division was stressed by ongoing military conflicts. This dualism was expressed in art, specifically tapestries portraying battles. To update ancient stories, Muslims were depicted as the new enemy, with their otherness conveyed through their appearance, way of fighting, and death.