Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Iconography of the Mouth of Hell

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Iconography of the Mouth of Hell

Article excerpt

Gary D. Schmidt, The Iconography of the Mouth of Hell (Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania: Susquehanna University Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1995). z34 pp.; illustrations. 29.50.

Hell-mouth, that gaping maw of a beast's head which swallows sinners, is one of the most dramatic images in medieval art. It was an essential part of the Doom wall-painting placed over the chancel arch of many English parish churches and was a spectacular prop in Miracle Plays. Gary D. Schmidt is clearly an enthusiast of the image: he discusses many examples of it in medieval literature and art from English and, to a lesser degree, Continental sources. His book also contains a number of black-and-white illustrations. Unfortunately, Schmidt is more of a collector than an analyst. His book makes a strong case for the widespread appearance of the hell-mouth, but it has little to say about its significance in medieval culture.

Chapter i contains a general account of the tenth-century English monastic revival during which the hell-mouth was born. Chapter 2 discusses the scriptural sources of the image, and notes the association of the head with pits, lions, dragons and whales. Chapter 3 identifies the hell-mouth as an Anglo-Saxon private devotional image, and the next two chapters discuss its later appearance in more public forms. Chapter 4 considers literary texts, but, after concluding that in general `exhortatory literature did not find imaginative means of presenting the hell mouth' (p.108, Schmidt, in by far his longest chapter, moves on to the visual arts. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.