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Misericord (2) (England)

This is a Misericord (2). We acquired it in 1912. Its medium is carved wood (oak), gilding (traces). It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

Sometimes called a ‘mercy seat,’ the misericord was the small ledge that protruded from the undersides of folding seats in the choir stalls of medieval churches. Medieval liturgical services were conducted eight times a day, and the clergy who attended and performed the services had to stand during the entire ritual. Developed in the thirteenth century, the misericord allowed the clergy to rest while appearing to stand during services. Because the misericord forms the underside of the seats in the choir, the carved images would only be seen by the clergy. They are often irreverent and secular, expanding our notion of what was permissible in the religious environment of the Middle Ages.

This sculpted face of a bearded man may represent a “Green Man”, the mythical untamed human who lived outside civilization. This motif was popular in the Middle Ages, perhaps relating to man’s need to be tamed. It was likely one of the ninety misericords that were carved for the choir stalls installed in Wells Cathedral between 1335 and 1340. Traces of gilding on this misericord indicate that it may once have been brightly painted.

This object was donated by Architectural League of New York.

Cite this object as

Misericord (2) (England); carved wood (oak), gilding (traces); 1912-1-1-a,b

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If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Misericord (2) (England) |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=19 January 2021 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>