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Magic in the House Functions of Images on Medieval Stoves Tiles from Transylvania, Moldavia and Walachia

Magic in the House Functions of Images on Medieval Stoves Tiles from Transylvania, Moldavia and Walachia

Gruia, Ana Maria

Studia Patzinaka, 5, 2007, pp. 7-46

Abstract

The idea for this project was inspired by two different observations. First, during my work with stove tiles1 I always had the impression that something remained unsaid, that the usual archaeological or art historical approaches did not enter the problem of the significance of the motifs decorating these items. How were the images on stove tiles perceived by the people who produced them and how by those who bough and used them? What stories did those images tell to their medieval beholders? Even more, how can we explain the strange representations, the hybrids and the monsters, the exotic animals, the sexual or scatological scenes, the masks, etc.? Then, in a personal conversation with someone building a stove for her new house I was told that besides a continuous freeze depicting interlacing snakes the owner wanted to include in a more hidden place (towards the chimney flue) one tile decorated with a grotesque mask. This one tile was meant to offer protection and ensure the best functioning of the stove. My assumption is that the “marginal” images on stove tiles, or at least some of them, as well as the religious subjects, had (also) a protective function. They might have been perceived through the paradigms of popular religion (labeled as superstition by the Church, and shared by both elite and lower social groups) and household magic, as one of the efficient ways to protect the home and the people inside it.

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