Corpus Medii Aevi 

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The project ‘Corpus Medii Aevi’ was dedi­cated to the study of the artistic recep­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of ancient art in the Middle Ages. Between c. 2009 und 2015, the Corpus Medii Aevi supple­mented the Census data­base with 167 records related to the recep­tion of anti­quity in the visual arts of the Middle Ages.

Anti­quity was an important frame of refe­rence throug­hout the Middle Ages, but unlike in the Renais­sance, the recep­tion of ancient forms was comple­tely diffe­rent. In contrast to the Renais­sance works of art in the Census, the medieval examples of the Corpus Medii Aevi are often very free adapt­a­tions of antique models. Nume­rous examples of the trans­for­ma­tion of anti­qui­ties in the Middle Ages can be observed in sculp­ture, espe­ci­ally in archi­tec­tural sculp­ture. The fasci­na­tion with and exem­plary quality of ancient sculp­ture is demons­trated, for example, in 11th and 12th-century Spanish and French art. In parti­cular, Roman sarco­phagi with figural reliefs, which survived as re-used objects visible in churches or monas­te­ries, became a source of inspi­ra­tion that enri­ched medieval visual culture.

Spinario, Magde­burg Cathe­dral,
Tomb of Fried­rich von Wettin

The so-called Spinario, the 73 cm-high bronze statue of a seated youth pulling a thorn from his foot, has been well known since anti­quity and enjoyed great popu­la­rity as a motif in the Middle Ages. The ancient figure exhi­bited today in the Conservator’s Palace in Rome was mentioned for the first time in 12th-century sources. Benjamin of Toledo, who described the monu­ments of Rome as one of their admi­rers, saw the Spinario, whom he iden­ti­fied as Absalom, in front of the Lateran Palace. A little later, Magister Grego­rius described the statue in his work De mira­bi­libus urbis Romae as ‘a highly ridi­cu­lous statue that is called Priapus’ [… eneum simu­la­crum ualde ridi­cu­losum quod Pria (pum) dicunt…]. As a symbol of paga­nism, this figure appears frequently in medieval sculp­ture and manu­script illu­mi­na­tion. The 10-cm figure on the tomb of Fried­rich von Wettin in Magde­burg Cathe­dral can also be unders­tood in this context.

Spinario, Musei Capitolini

Project Lead:
Prof. Dr. Horst Brede­kamp, PD Dr. Stefan Trinks


Rese­arch Asso­ciates:
Prof. Dr. Claudia Rückert, Katrin Neumann, Kath­leen Waack, Thomas Helbig, Kolja Thurner

The Corpus Medii Aevi was a project of the Adolph-Gold­schmidt-Zentrums zur Erfor­schung der roma­ni­schen Skulptur.