At the end of the eleventh century, the first troubadours began singing of sensuality, women and adultery, and it is here that a new conception of love, at odds with antiquated ideas, took hold. Soon, the matière de Bretagne (a group of Celtic legends that the stories of Tristan and Isolde, King Arthur and Percival are based upon) began to extol a passionate sexuality in which women played the initiatory role. Eventuallly, le Roman de la Rose, written in the thirteenth century, would come to mark the end of this so-called courtly love. Before its decline, however, this new attitude towards love and sexuality would exert an enormous influence on amorous conduct throughout the western world.
Arnaud de La Croix’s enlightening study takes a closer look at these developments, examining the predominant ruling force in Europe at the time: the Catholic Church. On the secular side, de La Croix describes the emergence of crude tales, ribald songs, obscene sculptures, and carnivalesque rites evoking a driving sexuality that was at odds with Christian morality.
Containing reproductions of medieval drawings and paintings, and making use of modern and period sources, this study, rich with contrasts, challenges our assumptions about sexuality in medieval times.