Alexandria Digital Research Library

Controlling Passions : Emotional Expression in Thirteenth-Century German Sculpture

Ferguson, Brigit Grace
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Art
Degree Supervisor:
C. Edson Armi
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Medieval history and Art history
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2015

Control of emotion was central to the medieval understanding of Christian salvation, and monumental sculptures were a key mode by which ecclesiastical patrons instructed the laity in correct emotional behavior. Each of this dissertation's three chapters focuses on the facial expressions and gestures of emotion in a single monument. I contextualize these expressions in relation to contemporaneous visual and textual materials. Theology, sermons, courtesy manuals, and Middle High German courtly literature offer textual perspectives on the complicated moral status of emotional behavior.

In chapter 1, I examine the Bamberg Last Judgment (ca. 1224-5), where smiles appear on the faces of both the blessed and the damned. The distinction between a virtuous and a sinful smile at Bamberg, as in contemporaneous artworks and texts, is one of context and degree. Appropriate smiles were a response to salvation, whereas inappropriate smiles revealed a lack of preparation for judgment. Early Christian and medieval writers emphasized that those who laugh during their earthly lives will know only tears at Christ's Second Coming. The reverse is also true: those who weep over their sinful nature and for Christ's sacrifice will be rewarded -- will smile -- on Judgment Day. The complex treatment of smiles on the Bamberg tympanum channels these discourses into a single scene, showing the virtuous smiles of the blessed and the sinful laughter of the damned side by side.

Chapter 2 examines the contrast between violent anger and calm joy on a late thirteenth-century Stoning of St. Stephen currently in the Mainz cathedral museum. This sculptural ensemble holds important implications not only for the history of art and emotion, but also for the history of Christian-Jewish relations. The extant scholarship consistently holds that medieval representations of Jews encouraged stereotypes and promoted violence. Against this trend, I argue that the Stoning condemns violence perpetrated by Christians against Mainz's Jewish population in the 1280s by taking the irrational performance of anger as its central theme. The Jewish identity of these figures is here ambiguously marked. The sculpture therefore shifts blame for the violence away from the inherent evil of Jews and onto a failure to control emotion.

Chapter 3 investigates the famous west choir and screen (ca. 1250) in Naumburg Cathedral. I argue that the facial expressions of the cathedral donors sculpted in the choir, who were members of the local nobility 200 years earlier, are best understood by focusing on their location: a cathedral choir that was the site of daily masses. The donor portraits respond emotionally to the mass and other liturgical performances associated with Christ's Passion. The appropriate emotional responses of the portrayed donors emphasize their authority to be the spiritual guardians of the cathedral and of the local elite to continue in this role, as well as modeling correct responses to the mass for the living to imitate.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (187 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Brigit Ferguson
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