Cain and Abel – Amuse Bouche #18 (Dennis Aubrey)

Today’s tasty appetizer is from the wonderful Eglise Saint Pierre des Tours in Aulnay-de-Saintonge. This capital is interesting not only for its theme, the murder of Cain, but also that it is actually labelled. We see Cain on the left striking Abel with a stave. Above them are the inscriptions Cain and Abel.

Capital - Cain and Abel, Eglise Saint Pierre des Tours, Aulnay-de-Saintonge  (Charente-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Capital – Cain and Abel, Eglise Saint Pierre des Tours, Aulnay-de-Saintonge (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We see other details in the work – Abel is depicted with a sheep because he was a shepherd – “And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” (Genesis 4:2) This story has always moved me because Cain was the first human to be born and his brother Abel the first to die.

This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.

12 thoughts on “Cain and Abel – Amuse Bouche #18 (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. What strikes me is the beards and mustaches. Cain and Abel are represented here a mature adults, not children or teenagers. Is there any evidence that the features of Cain’s face and hair correspond to a despised power figure of the time this was sculpted?

  2. The picture of Cain’s face stayed with me after leaving the site. Cain is not looking at Abel. He’s looking at something or someone else. Perhaps the sculptor suggests Cain is looking at God, angry with God for accepting Abel’s offering while rejecting his for reasons unexplained, or, Cain is looking at us, the viewers, with a sneer? “I’ll get you, too.” Or “Don’t be so quick to judge. You and history will become my clones.”

    1. Deep thoughts. I think you must come close to the many thoughts of pious sculptors who did these clever works. Iconographically they are in no way naive.

    2. Gordon, they are represented as adults and not youths. Had not thought of that actually. I really like your interpretation of Cain looking out, at us, at God. That simple act of murder has resonated through the ages.

      1. The beards seemed to speak of “mature” adulthood – a stage of human development when impulses are better controlled than in childhood or youth. It’s as if the artist was saying, “Don’t kid yourselves about your maturity or perfectabilty.”

  3. the soul of Cain had partnered w to the left of Cain are 2 dogs?? Abel is lifting the lamb but it looks like it is not finished..and the words Cain n Abel had to be done some time after the interesting..k

  4. Thank you Dennis for reminding us of the curious meaning of the English expression “being born”, which originally means “being carried inside a woman” i believe, as in “she was of bearing age”…

    Birth therefore is the opposite of “being born”… It is when you are delivered… And not born anymore…

    1. Joel, thanks for this. Wouldn’t the term “borne” be what you are referring to. The past tense of “to bear”, as in carry? I just looked up “born” and the definition reads, “brought forth by or as if by birth”. Wonder what the relation is between the two.

      1. I know, but are they two forms of the same word?

        I find on Wiktionary:

        born: past participle of bear; given birth to.

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