Living Devotion: Animating Sculpture in Early Modern Europe


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project focuses on sculptures that could come to life, and the role of artists as animators. For centuries, Christian theologians had defended images because they educated the illiterate, but the danger of idolatry was never far away. It was especially present in sculpture, made to resemble human bodies. The chief question this study addresses is this: in making religious sculpture, how did artists face the challenge of creating a statue that was both true-to-life and pointed beyond itself to the thing represented? This dual role was especially important in the case of religious subjects because of the threat of idol worship, and particularly charged for wooden sculpture because wood was believed to operate like a human body with blood (sap), skin (bark), and a complexion.