Figurated Corbels on Romanesque Churches: The Interface of Diverse Social Patterns Represented on Marginal Spaces

Barry Magrill


The figure carvings embellishing remote architectural members of small churches built in the twelfth century in the British Isles relate to patterns of viewing that brought various social classes together in one place. Though many of these figures are sexual in nature and their meanings appear associated with the medieval Church’s campaign against immorality, further regard to the expression of social codes and economic patterns connected to the imagery is worthwhile. This paper recognizes that a broad spectrum of viewers, seeing through vastly different lived experiences, contributed to a variety of interpretations of the same figurative imagery. The production of these carvings, located on corbels protruding from beneath the eaves of the roof and supporting horizontal string courses, involved the clergy, patron, and artist acting in concert. Yet, their combined efforts did not produce a unified iconographic scheme, but rather appear emblematic of a matrix of religious, moral, and social beliefs held by people of extremely different perspectives.


Medieval architecture; Romanesque architecture; Medieval sculpture; Romanesque sculpture; Medieval churches

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