Images of Lust: Representation and Reception of Luxuria in the Twelfth Century

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2021
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University of Alabama Libraries
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In the twelfth century, Luxuria, the Vice of Lust, associated with overindulgence in sensual pleasures, was depicted in a variety of ways, from didactic trees to individual personifications. In this thesis, I consider how gender informed two image types, the Trees of Vices and the femme-aux-serpents, which address different anticipated audiences and were produced in different contexts and media. In manuscripts, Luxuria is presented alongside other Vices in a didactic and devotional image type known as the Tree of Vices. In the encyclopedia known as the Liber Floridus (Ghent, Ghent University Library, MS 92) (ca. 1120) Luxuria is described in text, in a medallion, rather than represented by a figural personification. This image, created at the collegiate church of Saint-Omer anticipated a male audience. An alternative form of the figure of Luxuria appears in another Tree of Vices in the Speculum Virginum (London, British Library, Ms. Arundel 44) (ca. 1140-1150). Created for the instruction of religious women, this example illustrates Luxuria in the form of a bare-breasted woman atop the Tree of Vices. The small-scale, two-dimensional form of Luxuria in manuscripts addressed individual users in educational and devotional contexts. Next, in sculpture, I analyze the femme-aux-serpents type of Luxuria found on the south porch of the Abbey Church of Saint-Pierre, Moissac (ca. 1115-1131). The sculpture of Luxuria at Moissac is represented as a voluptuous woman who is attacked by snakes and toads. As a demon grasps her arm, the woman suffers by the manner in which she committed her sin. The public, nearly life-size sculpture exemplifies the punishments of the Vice of Luxuria in the afterlife is part of the larger program of the left-lateral wall, which focuses on the narrative of Lazarus and Dives. The sculpture of Luxuria can also be understood as part of the theme of the Virtues and Vices in the larger porch program at Moissac that culminates in an image of Christ in Majesty.

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Lust, Luxuria, Medieval, Vice
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