Självförhärligande, fromhet och vidskepelse. Om medeltida arkitektavbildningar

  • Herman Bengtsson Upplandsmuseet, Uppsala, Sweden


Title: Self-glorification, Piety and Superstition. The Iconography of the Architect in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the social position of the architect was much better than that of painters or sculptors. Since architects were trained in geometry and arithmetic they were regarded as scientists rather than artisans. The construction of the great cathedrals in the 12th and 13th centuries led to the architects being regarded as heroes of technology. Many of them were immortalized in the stone carvings that adorned the churches, often posing as well dressed atlantes supporting the buildings on their shoulders. Usually they were equipped with the tools of their trade like a pair of compasses or a set square. These sculptures illustrate the self-awareness of the architects but they were also intended to signify their piety. This becomes particularly clear when the architect is shown kneeling in front of Christ or a saint. Another iconographic category depicts the master builder threatened by various kinds of beasts. Art historians have argued that this was a way of illustrating the never ending agonies of the architect who lived in constant fear that his building would collapse. On a capital in Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden, an architect with a pair of compasses is attacked by an animal that looks like a wolf. This may be interpreted as an idealized portrait of Estienne de Bonnueill, who was contracted in Paris in 1287 to continue the building of the cathedral. Other extant examples show the master builders and in some cases also the patrons attacked by lions, dragons and other beasts.
How to Cite
BENGTSSON, Herman. Självförhärligande, fromhet och vidskepelse. Om medeltida arkitektavbildningar. ICO Iconographisk Post. Nordisk tidskrift för bildtolkning – Nordic Review of Iconography, [S.l.], n. 3, p. 17-31, jan. 2016. ISSN 2323-5586. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 15 june 2024.


Medieval Art, Cathedrals, Architect Iconography, Identity, Estienne de Bonnueill