Giants in the Medieval City

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The visual landscape north of the Alps between the 14th and 16th centuries was shaped by colossal representations of epic and mythological giants, reincarnated and cast as Christian heroes. In contexts religious or lay, private or public, giants dominated urban spaces but also rural ones. They were painted on church facades and stood tall as sculptures in town squares. Rather than portraying specific characters from particular texts, the figures embodied the notion of “the gigantic” as it appeared in contemporary writings: superhuman creatures from foreign lands and liminal geographies, often associated with supernatural powers, magic, hypermasculinity, and, concomitantly, matriarchy. Since the naming and identity of these giants do not always correlate--thus destabilizing the images' semiotics--the gap could be filled by fabricated memories of the ancient world. Hence, imagery of giants bridged mythological, biblical, and contemporary times, while producing novel political metaphors. This book explores the role and function of the vision and the experience of the gigantic. Executed “out of scale” and communicating ideas about excess, giants were experienced as physically and ethically abject and, at the same time, as magnificent, apotropaic, and redemptive; as such they came to embody the very notion of the medieval sublime.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTurnhout
Number of pages276
ISBN (Print)2503607683, 9782503607689
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NameStudies in the visual cultures of the Middle Ages
Volumevol. 20
ISSN (Print)2032-1090
ISSN (Electronic)2566-0187


  • Medieval art history
  • Iconography, Symbolism & representation in art and architecture
  • Cultural & intellectual history (c. 500-1500)
  • Late Middle Ages (c. 1300-1500)

ULI Keywords

  • uli
  • Art, Medieval -- Themes, motives
  • Christian art and symbolism -- Medieval, 500-1500
  • Cities and towns, Medieval
  • Giants in art
  • Giants -- Folklore
  • Knights and knighthood in art
  • Large-scale sculpture, Medieval


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