Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture by Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Metropolitan Museum of Art

Faces in medieval sculpture are explorations of human id, marked not just by way of evolving nuances of favor but in addition through ongoing drama of ecu heritage. The eighty-one sculpted heads featured during this superbly illustrated quantity supply a sweeping view of the center a while, from the waning days of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. every one masterful sculpture bears eloquent witness to its personal heritage, no matter if it was once faraway from its unique context for ideological purposes or due to altering tastes.

As a piece of artwork, the sculpted head is a very relocating and bright fragment; it usually turns out to keep a few a part of its earlier, turning into no longer in contrast to a residing remnant of an age. In antiquity and during the center a while it used to be regularly believed that the soul resided within the head, as articulated through Plato within the Timaeus. the pinnacle used to be therefore understood to be a middle of energy, the middle of person identification, and the first car for human expression, emotion, and character.

Many medieval sculpted heads grew to become separated from their settings—often church buildings or ecclesiastical monuments—by the doubtless unending destruction and displacement of artwork works in Europe in the course of and after the center a long time. Political and non secular ferment, overlook, shifts in flavor, and easily time itself: all exacted a heavy toll. in the course of the French Revolution, particularly, legions of stone figures misplaced their heads in a process mutilation that paralleled the notorious guillotine. in lots of instances the inventive or aesthetic benefits of a given fragment are all that stay of the unique work's context, which means, and value. a few heads survived accurately due to their innate attractiveness, or even out of reverence for the grand monuments to which they as soon as belonged.

Seven thematic sections retrace the historical past of those heads utilizing either conventional art-historical tools, similar to connoisseurship and archaeology, in addition to the most recent medical applied sciences. In his advent to the quantity, Charles T. Little presents an summary of those common issues, which come with Iconoclasm, The Stone Bible, and Portraiture. An essay through unusual pupil Willibald Sauerländer discusses the advanced and interesting factor of physiognomy in medieval artwork, from menacing or carnivalesque grotesques to the beatific visages of saints and apostles. Sauerländer presciently observes, "To know about 'the destiny of the face' within the center Ages—a interval torn by means of strife, religion, and fear—may end up at the present time to be greater than an insignificant art-historical concern."

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31 The composition of the vita image engages precisely these sorts of issues. The direct, unmediated gaze of the portrait that confronts the viewer is diluted in the narratives, in relation to which the viewer is (often, but not always) positioned as an outsider looking in. The vita image, thus, conflates two different kinds of spectatorship, bringing to the fore its potential for the critical appraisal of different regimes of visuality and the salient structures of representation. If the portrait is posited as a stable, scrupulously defined, instantly identifiable entity at the center of the panel, then the narratives systematically take those assumptions apart.

50 In Introduction: The Metaphor of the “Living Icon” textual accounts of the stigmatization (discussed in Chapter 3), there is a marked oscillation between the description of the stigmata as nails (clavi) and their qualification as wounds or marks (puncturas clavorum). Thus, the status of the stigmata as signifiers or the signified – as representations or real presence – is never clearly spelled out, signaling the difficulties that Francis’s biographers encountered in the depiction of the alter Christus.

The direct, unmediated gaze of the portrait that confronts the viewer is diluted in the narratives, in relation to which the viewer is (often, but not always) positioned as an outsider looking in. The vita image, thus, conflates two different kinds of spectatorship, bringing to the fore its potential for the critical appraisal of different regimes of visuality and the salient structures of representation. If the portrait is posited as a stable, scrupulously defined, instantly identifiable entity at the center of the panel, then the narratives systematically take those assumptions apart.

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