- Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (made)
ca. 1500 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Given by Mr Frank Surgey, through The Art Fund
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 64b, case WS, shelf EXP
This carving once supported the upper floor of a timber-framed house. This was jettied-out to maximise the floor space on a congested frontage while retaining the width of the street. The hairy wild man or 'woodwose' would have been visible at street level. He was probably seen as a symbolic protection for the household. Wild men of the woods were popular in art and legend throughout Europe. They represented vitality and the forces of nature.
Corbel-bracket or corner post of a half-timbered house, carved with a full-length bowed figure of a wild man or 'woodwose' with beard and hairy body and wearing high boots and holding a knotted club in his hands, who stands against a background of conventional foliage (plain at the left side), his feet on a monstrous dog-like mask (the surface of the timber deteriorated), his head supporting a moulded capital. The separable man and mask elements have been mounted onto an oak plank (5cm, 2" thick). One foot of the figure and the monster's protruding tongue have been restored.
Leather boots were a widely-worn type of working footwear during the later Middle-Ages (if not earlier). The rather shapeless form of these, with a practical fold-over top would have suggested practicality rather than fashion (although in the 16th century, fine and fashionable knee-boots were also worn.)
Place of Origin
England, Great Britain (made)
ca. 1500 (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 129 cm, Width: 25 cm max, Depth: 36 cm max, Weight: 32 kg
Object history note
Physically, this object consists of three parts - the Wild Man figure, the monstrous mask and a plank support. It is possible that the man and mask came from different sources, and were conveniently united, but until technical analysis, eg dendrochronology demonstrates that they do not share a common origin, it is plausible that they were originally together. The mask is much worse condition, but this might be explained by having been more exposed to weathering.
Historical context note
See Malcolm Jones, The Secret Middle Ages (Stroud, 2002), pp. 24, 64-6, 120, 171-2, 174, 269
Jones puts the woodwose in the context of a broader discussion of the exaggeration of features, facial and bodily to indicate devils in medieval art. The Wild Man (or Woman) has a shaggy blanket of hair over its entire body, and is also known in English as the woodwose or wodehouse. The Wild Man appears in various contexts: wildness beyond the control of civilised society (the somewhat sinister denizen of the primeval Germanic forest), and untrammelled energy and sexual desire, but also saintliness, the 'hairy anchorite', a man or woman who goes into the wilderness and whose hair grows long and shaggy, influenced from the Biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar. Influential examples were St John Chrysostom and in England, St John of Beverley (d.721). By the end of the 15th century he had become a kind of 'noble savage', pursuing an idyllic sylvan lifestyle. They had become a highly popular decorative motif, and were represented in every artistic medium.
In relation to the monstrous mask, it has been suggested that as evil itself was regarded in the Middle Ages as ugly, then it needed something even more repulsive and frightening to ward it off. One expression of this idea is demonstrated by gargoyles on churches, whose ugliness would symbolically ward off evil. Satan was sometimes depicted sticking out his tongue. An extended tongue might also warn against the dangers of heresy and blasphemy.
Positioned on the outside of a house, literally built into the wooden fabric, the Wild Man with his club would have been understood as providing symbolic protection for the household.
In Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547 (p.294), Charles Tracy writes:
As well as maximising floor space on a congested frontage, the jettying-out of medieval timber-framed houses allowed the freest possible flow of people and carts at street level. The buildings were supported at the corners by a substantial bracket, which provided an opportunity for the display of carving. These brackets, or corbels, were often decorated with low-relief tracery. This wild-man figure was clearly intended to make a considerable impression. In contemporary pageantry, the woodwose was often represented, and the London Chronicles for 1505 describe a procession in which 'cam In therle [the Earl] of Essex...wyth a woodhous precedying and bering a Sere Tre.' In 1780 John Carter illustrated a wild-man corner post 'against a house at the place where East gate stood, (the house being without the gate)' at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. It was life-size, nearly two metres high (Carter, 1780, I, tipped in between pp.58-9). The placement of the wild man in this position was probably seen as a means of protection for the household.
See Margaret Wood, The English Medieval House (London, 1965) pp. 208-226 (chapter 15, Timber Houses), especially Jetties, pp.219-226
Corner post of a half-timbered house, carved with a full-length bowed figure of a wild man, England, ca. 1500
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1988) cat. no. 240
Eds., Richard Marks and Paul Williamson, Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547 (London, 2003), p.294
Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547 (Victoria and Albert Museum 09/10/2003-18/01/2004)
Labels and date
Corbel bracket or corner post
This carving once supported the upper floor of a timber framed house. The hairy 'woodwose' would have been visible at street level. These wildmen of the woods were popular in art and legend throughout Europe. They represented vitality and the forces of nature.
Cat. 157 
Myths & Legends; Architectural fittings