A major new talent unveils a glittering and gruesome history of the body in the Middle Ages, from saints' relics to lovesick troubadours.
'The art historian Jack Hartnell tells this extraordinary story in his wonderfully rich study of the Middle Ages ... This beautifully illustrated book succeeds brilliantly in bringing this much maligned period to life. Hartnell shows that medieval culture was suffused with bodily tropes, from nuns plucking penises from a tree and flatulists kept by royalty to entertain the court, to the belief that the heart was “a glowing internal sun”. A triumph of scholarship.' - Guardian
Dripping with blood and gold, fetishized and tortured, gateway to earthly delights and point of contact with the divine, forcibly divided and powerful even beyond death, there was no territory more contested than the body in the medieval world.
In Medieval Bodies, art historian Jack Hartnell uncovers the complex and fascinating ways in which the people of the Middle Ages thought about, explored and experienced their physical selves. In paintings and reliquaries that celebrated the - sometimes bizarre - martyrdoms of saints, the sacred dimension of the physical left its mark on their environment. In literature and politics, hearts and heads became powerful metaphors that shaped governance and society in ways that are still visible today. And doctors and natural philosophers were at the centre of a collision between centuries of sophisticated medical knowledge, and an ignorance of physiology as profound as its results were gruesome.
Like a medieval pageant, this striking and unusual history brings together medicine, art, poetry, music, politics, cultural and social history and philosophy to reveal what life was really like for the men and women who lived and died in the Middle Ages.
Medieval Bodies is published in association with Wellcome Collection.
Jack Hartnell is Lecturer in Art History at University of East Anglia. He has previously held positions at Columbia University, the Courtauld Institute, the Max-Planck-Institut and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Wellcome Collection is a free visitor destination that explores the connections between medicine, life and art.