Corbel with Five Interlaced Hair-Pulling Acrobats

Date: ca. 1150–1200

Geography: Made in Aquitaine, France

Culture: French

Medium: Limestone

Dimensions: Overall: 32 x 15 3/8 x 18 1/2 in. (81.3 x 39.1 x 47 cm)

Classification: Sculpture-Architectural

Credit Line: Gift of George Blumenthal, 1934

Accession Number: 34.21.2


This corbel, decorated with acrobatically intertwined figures pulling at one another’s hair, was part of an ensemble at the Benedictine monastery of Notre-Dame-de-la-Grande-Sauver. Embellished with a wide range of patterns and motifs, each corbel once supported an exterior cornice, a horizontal projection at the roofline of the twelfth-century church. Many are still at the abbey; others are in different French and American collections. As a group, the corbels reveal a preference for acanthus leaves and figures with stylized anatomy and hair. Several display mischievous activities, and a few are even sexually suggestive, perhaps an allusion to humanity’s inner demons and licentious fantasies. Corbels like these enjoyed a lasting popularity and can be found on the exterior of many medieval churches.