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The Angel Choir at Lincoln and the Poetics of the Gothic Smile

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Abstract:

This article argues that the smiling images produced in the thirteenth century deserve serious attention as signs of the centrality of the body to contemporary religious speculation. Smiling images are held here to be part of a re–evaluation of the totality of physical representation, especially, but not exclusively, in sculpture. The Angel Choir (1256–80) at Lincoln is taken as a central instance of this particular expressivity. It is suggested that this rhetorical order formed part of a wider order of representation which could involve not merely individual figures, but also the discourses of architecture, liturgy, biblical exegesis, music and light. Gothic ‘naturalism’, it is argued, is not merely shallow, but has a metaphysical character; it is not to be seen solely from the perspective of Aristotelianism or the vernacular culture of the romance. Instead, it is implicated deeply in the same insights into the body and soul which produced the medieval visual culture of the macabre.

Document Type: Original Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8365.00067

Affiliations: Cambridge University

Publication date: September 1, 1997

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