Tim Smith-Laing

The Venerable Bod

Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages

By

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Medieval bodies do not, generally speaking, carry the best connotations. As art historian Jack Hartnell points out, in the popular imagination the medieval world is one of ‘generalised misery and ignorance’, ‘piteous squalor’ and ‘fretful darkness’, occasionally enlivened by a good war. And bodies are the spot where all that squalor and pain get actualised. Imagine the medieval body in relation to the quotidian ordeals of lice, ticks and fleas, to the sweeping scythes of disease, famine and war, or to the horrors of deliberately inflicted pains and punishments, and it is hard not to conceive of it as a fairly wretched object.

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