• Suzanne Verderber
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the early decades of the twelfth century, cathedral sculptors began to carve the human figure with what modern viewers might perceive to be a greater attention to “realistic” detail. Figures begin to stand out as unique, more lifelike, like portraits of people one might meet in one’s own village, rather than as rigid iterations of an archetype. This new found attention to physical singularity will be obvious to anyone performing an overview of painting and sculpture from the so-called Dark Ages to the twelfth century in Western Europe. Above the door of the north transept at Saint-Lazare Cathedral at Autun, a heavy-lidded, serpentine carving of Eve appears pensive, morose, as she picks the apple. Inside the same building, Saint Peter and another saint bear ambivalent expressions—a combination of righteousness and horror—as Simon Magus is cast headfirst into hell.At the Church of the Madeleine at Vézelay, a capital carving shows Saint Benedict resuscitating a dead infant as its mother looks on. Her anxious expression is convincing: cheek resting in hand, mouth bent in a frown, eyes heavy. Compare these depictions of humans, marked by their singularity, to the figures of Christ and his Apostles on the lintel of Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines, in the Pyrenees, carved about a century before: all are positioned rigidly upright and appear to have exactly the same face.1


Reactive Force Active Force Twelfth Century Historical Moment External Model 
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  1. 1.
    Reproductions of the Eve at Autun and the lintel of Saint-Genis-desFontaines are reprinted in James Snyder, Medieval Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, 4th–14th Century (New York: Prentice Hall, 1989), pp. 259 and 287. Reproductions of the two other Autun carvings are located on ARTstor,, accessed October 30, 2012.Google Scholar
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    This discussion is informed by Michel Zink’s excellent discussion of Augustine and Guibert of Nogent. Michel Zink, The Invention of Literary Subjectivity, trans. David Sices (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), pp. 163–81.Google Scholar
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    The principal sources consulted on the problem of the “emergence of the individual” are: Brigitte Bedos-Rezak and Dominique Iogna-Prat, L’individu au Moyen Âge: Individuation et individualization avant la modernité (Paris: Aubier, 2005)Google Scholar
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© Suzanne Verderber 2013

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  • Suzanne Verderber

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