A Green Man in Clermont-Ferrand – Amuse Bouche #29 (Dennis Aubrey)

The Green Man figure is one of the most compelling and mysterious figures in Romanesque sculpture. It usually depicts the head of a man ensconced in vegetation, most often with leaves or snakes emerging from his mouth. Julianna Lees has an entire website devoted to investigations on the Green Man and other stylized motives from the era. This “Green Man of Cercles” site has much useful information on Romanesque sculpture.

Today’s example of a Green Man comes from one of the finest Romanesque churches in France, Clermont-Ferrand’s magnificent Notre Dame du Port. This capital is not the standard version of the Green Man, but a variant. The simplicity of the form – the head emerging from the vegetation – is compensated for by the beauty of the sculpting.

Capital - Green Man, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Capital – Green Man, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This figure is often called an “exfoliate head”. The Clermont version is characterized by the serenity of the man’s gaze. Normally the Green Man seems to be associated with man’s relationship to nature, often the representation of a sinful Adam with snakes emerging from his mouth. Here we see a figure at peace with nature, calm and serene, even wise.

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.

13 thoughts on “A Green Man in Clermont-Ferrand – Amuse Bouche #29 (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Sent me looking for my Green Man book.
    Alas, can’t find it. Will definitely check the Julianna Lees website.

  2. aagh.. have to check my ‘green man ‘info..oh goodie! a go to site as i see above in blurb, i may have to re-post on another thought that hit me as i looked the the photo- hot dog, a hunt!.

  3. My church, the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, was built in the 1800s, and the stone carvers slipped in a green man in one of the corbels. It took us decades to notice, and we were delighted to find it. Now, when the church is decorated for Christmas, a wreath goes around the Green Man to welcome him to the festivities.

  4. Preparing to lead a memorial service Friday for a 43 year-old who died of esophageal cancer last Sunday, I learned from the deceased’s family his love of nature and simplicity of life, a kind of Green Man if the sort depicted here. In preparation for the service, I turned to several Medieval poets who, like this sculptor, understood what we forgot in the Industrial Age: that man is part of nature, not more and not less. Indian poet Kabir (1420-1518) expressed the essential harmony humorously when he said, “A fish in the water that is thirsty needs serious professional counseling.”

    After the negative responses of climate change-deniers to last night’s State of the Union Address, I wish I’d lived in the Middle Ages! They were greener than some of us!

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