Abstract

The twelfth-century Visio monachi de Eynsham describes pious exercises and resultant mystical visions of the monk Edmund, who saw in his monastery a crucifix bleed profusely, and so regularly sought to touch it in order to come into close contact with the streaming blood. The article explores twelfth- and thirteenth-century reports on visions of bleeding crucifixes, and considers what they tell us about approaching and handling medieval sculptures before the 1300s, and so before what art historical scholarship commonly considers the beginning of affective piety. Using as an example the small crucifix from the parish church of Klein Escherde near Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, Germany (ca. 1230–40), I will suggest that sculptors and painters adapted their design to meet the expectation of viewers’ interactions with the sculpture, and that, in turn, this design may have influenced reception of these images and stimulated their enlivening effect. The Klein Escherde crucifix is characterized by a precise observation of the body, and made to be closely seen and explored from several different angles. For instance, the sculpted streams and individual drops of blood flowing from the side wound—which became popular in the early thirteenth century—as well as the textual evidence for their handling, suggest that the beholder was encouraged to augment the act of looking from a distance by touching the refined surface of Christ’s body. The close analysis of the Klein Escherde crucifix explores the way that earlier medieval wooden sculpture was made for and received by its monastic beholders, thus illuminating the mechanism of visionary animation experienced by Edmund and his contemporaries.

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