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Art, Exegesis, and Affective Piety in Twelfth-Century German Manuscripts

Art, Exegesis, and Affective Piety in Twelfth-Century German Manuscripts

By Adam S. Cohen

Manuscripts and Monastic Culture: Religious Reform and Intellectual Life in Twelfth-Century Germany, ed. Alison Beach (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007)

Introduction: The extensive holdings of the Admont library include a fairly simple pen drawing that, despite its modest aesthetic value, open a door into the rich world of twelfth-century monastic art and intellectual life in the German-speaking lands of central Europe. The drawing, at one point inserted as a flyleaf into a twelfth century manuscript of Cassiodorus’s Historia tripartita, but now a separated fragment, depicts a labyrinth with the figures of Theseus and the Minotaur in the centre. Like other elements from the Graeco-Roman past, the labyrinth could be found in various medieval contexts and recurred frequently in medieval art. Most famous are the labyrinths laid in medieval church pavements, as in Chartres, although examples could be seen throughout France, Germany, and Italy beginning around 1100. The labyrinth was variously interpreted in the Middle Ages, usually as an emblem of the wonders of the ancient world. as a metaphor for the errors in life to be avoided, or conversely as sign of intellectual accomplishment by overcoming the maze. Because the Admont labyrinth includes the figures of Theseus and the Minotaur, it likely conforms to the common medieval interpretation of Theseus as a type for Christ and the triumph over the Minotaur and labyrinth as a representation of the victory over death and sin.

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