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The holy and the unholy: Analogies for the numinous in later medieval art

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Chapter Summary

By examining just a few medieval images representative of many more of their kind, this chapter shows that contemporary artists created images of the holy and the unholy that reached beyond sacred texts or specific points of Christian dogma. Even when working within iconographical conventions, medieval artists used different semiotic strategies to evoke moments of the non rational element of divinity and of evil, and to represent the wholly otherness of God. As didactic tools, these images reinforced Christian beliefs about heaven and hell and their respective occupants. But as objects of contemplation, they also may help viewers to recall their own experiences of the numinous, including the negatively numinous, and to facilitate subsequent religious experiences. The relationships between medieval images of the holy and the unholy, their literary points of reference, and visual analogies for an unnamed something are complex.

Keywords: Christian beliefs; didactic tools; holy images; medieval art; unholy images



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