Oter AHAS 10angl


The motif of the head in Romanesque architectural sculpture

The paper discusses four Romanesque stone heads surviving on the territory of the present-day Slovenia: one in the parish church of St. Martin in Laško, two in the exterior of the parish church of the Holy Trinity in Velika Nedelja and one in the exterior of the Minorite church in Piran. In Slovenian scholarly literature only scant attention has been paid to this theme before.

The marble head, carved in the form of a holy water basin and now walled in the northern aisle in the parish church in Laško, is a work of poor provincial quality. The primitive execution and the emphasized schematization make the dating rather difficult. The item is most probably a Roman spolia which was given its today appearance at the end of the 12th or at the beginning of the 13th century, but it can also be of a somewhat earlier date. It seems possible that the original sculpture was only subsequently remodelled into the holy water basin.

The head above the apse roof of the parish church in Velika Nedelja is now placed only a little higher than it was originally, i.e. at the termination of the apse roof. The research has shown that heads at this specific place were rather frequent in the 12th and 13th centuries, at least in the Austrian and south-German territories.

The other head, now in the niche at the south-east corner of the nave of the same church, is a characteristic example of the general west-European trend of decorating the exteriors of churches with stone heads. Such heads probably had a particular symbolic or apotropaic meaning at first, but in the course of time they became a mere decorative architectural element. The motif of heads set in niches can be found not only in architectural sculpture as it developed through time but also in illuminated manuscripts.

The high-quality carved head in Piran could have earlier been built in at various places. It seems quite possible that it originally served as a corbel for the jamb of the portal of probably a sacred or maybe even a secular building, which is the case in the portals of numerous European Romanesque churches.

There are a few more examples of stone heads in Slovenia which, however, do not function as an independent architectural element but are parts of other architectural or sculptural works. These examples are: the Romanesque baptismal font – the only surviving example on the Slovenian territory – in the parish church in Velika Nedelja whose only decoration is four stylized archaic heads; a fragment of a capital in Slovenj Gradec whose corners are decorated with stylized heads; and a head carved in relief on a small column found during the recent restoration works in the cloister of the Cistercian monastery in Stična. All the three can be paralleled to numerous examples in west- European art.

In addition to a critical overview of the hitherto scarce studies on this question in Slovenia, the article also presents the general development of the motif of the head in the history of art and the important role it played in Romanesque architectural sculpture.