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The Beginning of Wisdom: Imagining fear in French Romanesque portal sculpture, c.1080-1140

Tame, Han (2023) The Beginning of Wisdom: Imagining fear in French Romanesque portal sculpture, c.1080-1140. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.104487) (KAR id:104487)


This thesis examines the role of fear in the design and function of Romanesque portal sculptures c.1090-1140 to understand how representations of the majestas Domini, Last Judgment and Hell were intended to guide their audiences towards an emotional state of terror and wonder that would lead to wisdom. It focuses on a small collection of important sites in Burgundy and the regions of Aveyron and Tarn-et-Garonne in south-western France to examine the development of monumental sculpture as a means of conveying and formulating theological concepts to lay and monastic audiences. Through an analysis of their iconography and composition in relation to exegetical and literary interpretations of divine majesty, judgment and eternal damnation, it offers new perspectives on pre-Scholastic art and thought, and contributes to current scholarship on affective devotion and emotional response in the context of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture. The new imagery created for the medium of portal sculpture is contextualised within the iconographic traditions which developed from Late Antiquity and continued to evolve over the early Middle Ages.

The role of emotions, particularly fear, in the devotional cultures of the early twelfth century also presents new insights into the nature of visuality and spiritual sight in the Middle Ages. Portal sculptures were designed to prompt their audiences to develop the fearful attitude shared by the prophets, and which would remain even after the Last Judgment. Representations of response and the replication of divinely-created images encouraged those viewing the sculpture to imagine them as if they were real to participate in the visionary experience of the prophets or terror of the resurrected dead at the Last Judgment.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Guerry, Emily
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.104487
Uncontrolled keywords: Medieval Romanesque Sculpture Christianity History Theology Conques Autun Cluny Espalion Moissac
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 04 Jan 2024 09:10 UTC
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2024 11:13 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Tame, Han.

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