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Paradise: The World of Romanesque Sculpture

By Rita Wood

Romanesque sculpture has a Europe-wide appeal – tourists flock to Vézelay for the grace and skill in sharp clean stone; walkers drop into country churches to get out of the heat or the rain and are puzzled for a moment or two by what they see there; insatiable collectors hunt for green men, and fortunate academics make a living out of an indefinable enthusia

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978-0-995588202 [A41]

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Why are we all charmed by Romanesque sculpture? What is engaging all these minds? We are trying to impose some credible order on the vast amount of minor sculpture that survives from the twelfth century; it is human to search for pattern and to expect meaning. A thousand years ago, when they started to put it up there, surely they meant something by it?

Emile Mâle’s ground-breaking work on the interpretation of the grand themes of French twelfth-century sculpture was published roughly a century ago, but there has been no equivalent advance in the understanding of the minor sculpture. Following on from Rita Wood’s many published articles, which have analysed individual schemes of Romanesque sculpture at lesser churches and repeatedly found them to be based on central Christian doctrines as expressed in the Bible and the Fathers, it is reasonable to suppose that Romanesque sculpture was promoted as a vehicle of the Gregorian reforms. Wood suggests that much of the background sculpture – skilful, incompetent or plain odd – was intended to direct the thoughts of the laity towards the life after death, to a new life to be enjoyed in Paradise. To discover this theme widespread in the West reveals sculpture as a purposeful expression of a confident and energetic culture in strong growth. Green men and a great many monsters are seen in a new light.


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