“The Devil Brings Noah’s Son to his Wife’s Bedroom,” in a World Chronicle, Austria or Bavaria, last third of the fourteenth century (Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. 1.5.2 Aug. 2o, fol. 17r).

Nina Rowe will be presenting at the Global Middle Ages Seminar on Tuesday, September 19, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “Satan at the Deluge and in the Streets of Vienna: The Story of Noah in Late Medieval Illuminated Weltchroniken.”

The devil sneaks aboard Noah’s Ark and entices a pair of passengers to pursue a night of intimacy, despite having taken vows of chastity. Noah discovers the tryst, but instead of punishing the young lovers, the patriarch dismisses the incident as a minor offence. Texts and images recounting this episode occur in illuminated Weltchroniken (World Chronicles), a book type that was popular among well-heeled, lay audiences in late fourteenth-century Austria and Bavaria. In these works, biblical stories are paraphrased in versified vernacular text, amplified with anecdotes, and told as part of an ongoing narrative that interweaves antique mythology and imperial history. Many manuscripts particularly appear to register the interests and preoccupations of their original reader-viewers. In this talk, Rowe will examine the story of the Deluge as presented in verse and illuminations in three late fourteenth-century Weltchroniken, considering the tellings in relation to late medieval attitudes toward erotic desire. While sermons could encourage sexual abstinence as a step toward spiritual perfection, owners of illuminated Weltchroniken were given the opportunity to delight in tales of forbidden sex and to look at the kinds of naughty pictures condemned by clerics. Rowe argues that such relatively tolerant attitudes toward sensuality find parallels in the professionalization of prostitution in late medieval cities and other measures recognizing the force of sexual drives. Analyzed in light of social practice, the illuminated Weltchroniken considered in this talk reveal the possibility that audiences were at ease shrugging at the moralizations of the church and could find no shame in coupling—even when conveyed to the boudoir by the devil himself.


Nina Rowe is an Associate Professor of Art History at Fordham University, and she serves as the Vice President of the International Center of Medieval Art. Previous publications include her book The Jew, the Cathedral, and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and a special issue of the journal Studies in Iconography, Medieval Art History Today—Critical Terms (2012), for which she was guest editor. Her current work on illuminated World Chronicles has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies.