Cover image for Medieval death : ritual and representation
Medieval death : ritual and representation
Binski, Paul.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 1996.
Physical Description:
224 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BT825 .B474 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



In this richly illustrated volume, Paul Binski provides an absorbing account of the social, theological, and cultural issues involved in death and dying in Europe from the end of the Roman Empire to the early sixteenth century. He draws on textual, archaeological, and art historical sources to examine pagan and Christian attitudes toward the dead, the aesthetics of death and the body, burial ritual, and mortuary practice. Illustrated throughout with fascinating and sometimes disturbing images, Binski's account weaves together close readings of a variety of medieval thinkers. He discusses the impact of the Black Death on late medieval art and examines the development of the medieval tomb, showing the changing attitudes toward the commemoration of the dead between late antiquity and the late Middle Ages. In one chapter, Binski analyzes macabre themes in art and literature, including the Dance of Death, which reflect the medieval obsession with notions of humility, penitence, and the dangers of bodily corruption. In another, he studies the progress of the soul after death through the powerful descriptions of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory in Dante and other writers and through portrayals of the Last Judgment and the Apocalypse in sculpture and large-scale painting.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Several works have recently used the subject of death as access to a broader exploration of particular cultures (e.g., Philippe Ariès's Images of Man and Death, Harvard Univ., 1985). Binski (art history, Univ. of Chicago) seeks to provide for general readers and undergraduates an overview of death through a study of medieval images and representations; his essay spans the period from late antiquity to the Renaissance. Using his wide knowledge of the scriptural, patristic, theological, and archaeological, as well as art historical, sources, Binski presents fascinating information on attitudes toward the body and soul, development of the coffin and tombs, mortuary practices, hell, purgatory, and heaven. A lapidary style makes for pleasant reading, but the rich illustrations deserve much more detailed captions. A highly informed and exciting book, this will prove useful to advanced students; it is too sophisticated for the intended audience.‘Bennett D. Hill, Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Binski's scholarly work examines how medieval Christian society coped with the ultimate fact of life. Some of his attention centers around the theology of death and the dead, e.g., hell, purgatory, heaven, expiation of sin, chantries for prayers, the meaning of resurrection, intercession by saints. Some focuses on funeral monuments and artistic representations of the dead, and on such popular concepts (or events) as the last judgment and the weighing of souls. In these eternal questions there was no single or official medieval line of thinking. Views about the corruption of bodies as well as whether tombs should depict earthly accomplishments or the ultimate consumption by worms remained contested. Interpretations from different schools of theology were reflected in crafts of different schools of artistic culture and regional patronage as they determined the appearance of tombs, memorial brasses, and gravestones. Binski's learned study brings together art history, cultural history and theology, and popular religion, and offers many striking insights. Includes 88 black-and-white illustrations and 11 color plates. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. T. Rosenthal SUNY at Stony Brook