Friday, June 29, 2012

Adam encore - or maybe en-corps

So more of Adam, this time one of his hands and importantly showing yet another odd part of his body - the attachment that runs between his thumb and his chest.  Of course I know why its there, technically, in order to support that bent up arm, otherwise it would most likely have broken off at the elbow.  These kinds of struts are visible on lots of stone sculptures, starting already in antiquity, and typically we just look past or through them, not allowing them to disrupt seeing the sculpted body as similar to our own.  But what strikes me about this particular one is its elegance, its graceful form, which seems to me to integrate it with the rest of his body and so ask for it to be taken seriously as part of that body.  We have already seen how weird this body really is, so why not add this in too: not only does he have two belly buttons, but also a growth of some sort that attaches his hand to chest, apparently from his fingernail and to a place near his nipple.  This is one of the ways I want to start to think about sculptures: as quasi-human bodies, but as only quasi-human and so as having anatomies and physiologies all of their own.  What might this kind of a connection as a bit of body be or do?   Does it mean that he can't move that hand?  Or could it grow and flex as he moves?  What kind of connection does it establish between his hand and his chest?  After the belly buttons I can't help but see it as somewhat umbilical, as feeding something back and forth between his torso and his extremities.

I took a good look at his hand and starting thinking more about it when I went back to the Cluny as a way of starting to wind up my time here, by going back to its beginning.  I had a specific reason for looking at his and other hands.  I've been writing about this group of stories in which a man puts a ring on the finger of a sculpture, only to have the sculpture take him seriously and start to pursue a relationship with him (if you aren't familiar with these tales, Michael discusses them in the Gothic Idol and so does David Freedberg in Power of Images).    I discuss them in the first chapter of the book I'm working on and I'll be talking about them at the upcoming New Chaucer Society conference in Portland.  I was starting to think ahead to that talk and wonder what I was going to do in terms of images.  It's really a text-based talk and so doesn't need images.  But I can't quite imagine giving a talk without images - what are people going to look at as I'm speaking?  Me??  And I thought, well, its New Chaucer Society, emphasis on the "new," and so I could do something very arty and distracting with just close-ups of hands from various sculptures dissolving in and out.  So I decided that when I went back to the Cluny I would take some photos to use for something like that.   But here is the thing: the most relevant sculptures would be images of the Virgin (since the sculpture in the story is identified sometimes as the Virgin and sometimes as Venus), but they don't tend to have independently carved fingers that you could actually slip a ring on to!  Either their hands and so the fingers are attached to something - the child, some draperies, an object, the fingers to each other - or else the hands are missing - sometimes leaving broken stumps and sometimes leaving holes that suggest the hands were separately carved and then jointed on. 

So that's a bit of a problem for me, since I've been rather confidently asserting that medieval people did put rings onto sculptures: there is even an anecdote, that Michael again mentions, about an archbishop marrying the Virgin by placing a ring on the finger of a statue.  Does it matter if they didn't?  They did dress devotional sculptures of the Virgin in real clothing and adorn them with other kinds of jewelry: how important is it that this a ring?  Does it matter if they did put rings on the fingers of sculptures, but just not to Virgin (or really Virgin and child) images?  The few things I was able to find with independently carved fingers weren't Virgins with children, but a John the Baptist, a Christ on a donkey, a Mary and John pair from a Crucifixion, and then Adam - although I believe his are partly stuck together

Or, and I am going to admit that this is pure speculation, could it be that the sculptures that now have missing hands are the ones that had the independently carved out fingers that might have had rings put on and pulled off?  Hands with fingers like that would be more fragile and so more likely to break off or to deteriorate over time.  And hands with fingers that attracted that kind of handling would be especially likely to get damaged or destroyed.  And that would be interesting, to come back around to where I started here, as another way of distinguishing the sculpted body from the human body: that treating the sculpted body as if it is a human body does actual damage to that body, since of course it isn't a human body, even if I can put a ring on its finger.

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