Plaisance-sur-Gartempe (Vienne)

The façade of this fine church feature figures which condemn various practices and behaviours.

On the corbel-table an ass plays the harp, rote or lyre
(illustrating the sin of inappropriate ambition - for the harp was King David's instrument) ,
while, below, a dancer raises her skirt suggestively.

Another ass playing harp, rote or lyre on a capital at Brioude (Haute-Loire).

more asses
photo © Emmanuel Pierre

Other corbels include (to the left of the donkey) a devil or baboon-faced goat, an anal-exhbitionist contortionist,
and a fine sow or boar.


The ass-and-harp motif goes back several thousand years to Sumeria.
Note the bull-head on the sound-box of the harp.

The attack on entertainers of all kinds: musicians, acrobats, jongleurs and circus people - and all who performed
acts "against nature" was widespread.
The corbel-tables below are at Bolmir and Cillamayor in Cantabria.

Certain instruments (mostly the quieter ones: harp, monochord, psaltery, regal, portative organ, hand-bells, pan-pipes, etc.)
were sometimes considered suitable for 'sacred' music in churches,
while loud ones (cymbals, drums, bombard, trumpet, crumhorn, hurdy-gurdy, etc.) were considered 'profane'.
This attitude prevailed right into the twentieth century, and indeed became more extreme after the Reformation,
when only organs - or indeed no musical instruments at all - were permitted in many Protestant churches.

A Cyclops playing pan-pipes, Iguérande (Saône-et-Loire) : the unnatural playing the unacceptable.


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