Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



Sculpted corbels of the Romanesque period are often categorized as obscene or grotesque, and frequently dismissed as medieval humor or an individual artist’s imagination. Common themes on corbels include images of debauchery and obscenity, as well as depictions of the effects of sin. These themes are usually communicated through the image of entertainers (acrobats, musicians, and dancers), acts of excess such as overindulgence in alcohol or sexual vice, threatening gestures, monstrous animals, or the human visage transformed by idiocy. As titillating and lowbrow as the images on corbels may seem, they should not be relegated to categories of absurdity or pure entertainment. Sculpted Romanesque corbels reveal a specific medieval visual concept of physical and spiritual degradation resulting from mortal sin. Furthermore, depictions of people and activities on sculpted corbels created between the eleventh and twelfth century in France and Northern Spain provide insight into medieval society. In analyzing the evidence, an interdisciplinary approach is essential to provide insight into the visual and social functions of sculpted corbels. An evaluation of shifts in power and economics during the eleventh and twelfth centuries establishes historical contexts, while a review of medieval written sources provides insights into medieval philosophies and perceptions. When such source materials are reviewed in conjunction with visual images, many aspects of medieval societal concerns that are embedded within Romanesque corbels become identifiable. Finally, when corbels are considered contextually with other images in their immediate vicinity on building facades, themes and even narratives are revealed.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Savage, Matthew