Saint-Avit-Sénieur: Objects and Patterns

Our first post shows some beautiful patterns painted during the 13th century in the abbey church of Saint-Avit-Sénieur (Dordogne, France).

Saint-Avit-Sénieur, abbey church. Pilgrims’ cloaks (13th c.)

At first glance, when we look from the central nave of the church, this entire part of the south wall seems to display a large ornamental area made of geometric patterns. A closer look reveals that the painting actually represents luxurious pieces of cloth hanging on a wooden rod. The effects of volume, the folds, and textures suggest the weight of the clothes and their undulating movement. In the medallions and diamonds, some figures of animals (lions and eagles) evoke the motives embroidered on contemporary fabric.

This example allows us to measure some of the difficulties in defining as “abstraction” for the Middle Ages, situated as it is between objecthood, materiality, and ornamentation.