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Corpus Medii Aevi

Reception and Transformation of Antique Forms in the Middle Ages


Spinario, Rome, Palazzo dei
(Source: Werner Fuchs: Die Skulptur der
Griechen, Munich 1983, fig. 316,
photo: Max Hirmer)

The Corpus Medii Aevi is dedicated to the artistic reception and transformation of antique forms in the Middle Ages. Throughout this period, the heritage of antiquity constituted a significant frame of reference, but unlike in the Renaissance, the handling of antique forms was entirely different. Contrary to the documents of the Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the Renaissance, the medieval examples of the Corpus Medii Aevi display rather free references to their antique models. The influence of Classical Antiquity can be observed in numerous examples of medieval architectural sculpture. The fascination with antique sculptures can be seen in the products of the sculptors of the 11th and 12th century in Spain and France. Particularly Roman sarcophagi with figurative reliefs, which survived due to reuse, were visible in churches or monasteries and served as creative inspiration, enriching medieval pictorial invention.

Thorn Puller, Magdeburg Cathedral,
bronze tomb plate of Friedrich
of Wettin
(Source: Gislher Quast/Jürgen Jerratsch:
Der Dom zu Magdeburg, Munich/Berlin
2004, fig. p. 74, photo: Constantin Beyer)

The so-called Spinario, a bronze statue which is 73 cm high and shows the figure of a boy sitting and withdrawing a thorn from the sole of his foot, probably has been continuously known since antiquity and enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages. The antique statue, now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome, was first mentioned in 12th century sources. Benjamin of Tudela, an enthusiast of antique remains, described the monuments of Rome including the Thorn Puller, then located outside the Lateran Palace, which he interpreted as Abshalom. On the other hand, Magister Gregorius referred to the statue as a “highly ridiculous statue which is called Priapus” [… eneum simulacrum ualde ridiculosum quod Pria(pum) dicunt…]. Representing heathenism, the figure started its triumphal procession through medieval sculpture and illumination. Another Boy with Thorn (10cm high) at the tomb of Friedrich of Wettin in Magdeburg cathedral performed this function as well.

With the documents of the Corpus Medii Aevi and the Corpus Winckelmann the timeframe of the Census database now ranges from the Middle Ages through the 18th century. Thus, it offers the opportunity to record and research the entire reception of antiquity in several periods. Simultaneously, the data of the individual projects are provided and can be browsed separately.


The Corpus Medii Aevi is a project of the Adolph-Goldschmidt-Zentrum zur Erforschung der romanischen Skulptur (Adolph Goldschmidt Center for Research of Romanesque Sculpture). It is a forum for scholarly research on sculpture of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Center’s name commemorates Goldschmidt’s professorship in Berlin (1912–1929). The Center, established at the Institute of Art and Visual History at the Humboldt University in 2007, attempts to carry forward the tradition of research on art of the Middle Ages, which Goldschmidt’s work embodied and which was violently interrupted in the years between 1933 and 1945.

Kontakt / Contact

Sitz / office:
Georgenstr. 47, 10117 Berlin
2. OG / second floor
tel.: ++ 49-30-20 93 66 250
fax: ++ 49-30-20 93 66 251

Anschrift / postal address:
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte / Census
Unter den Linden 6
D - 10099 Berlin

Online-Ausstellung / Online Exhibition