Published: March 2018 (first edition 2013)
‘A lovely book… full of provocative ideas’ (The Daily Telegraph)
‘He moves easily from such detail to clear, passionate prose on some of the underlying cultural themes that might explain the many curiosities of this strange and compelling aspect of medieval art’ (Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Jon Cannon)
Of Sirens and Centaurs provides a superb introduction to the fascinating world of medieval sculpture through examples in Exeter Cathedral which, for a Gothic building, contains a surprisingly rich repertoire of such classically-derived monsters. Glacial faces, secretive and obtuse, stare out from corbels and roof bosses; geometrically arranged creatures tessellate into kaleidoscopic patterns; figures are frozen, often in extremes of emotion; mythical monsters lurk. And yet within this otherness there is often a sense of play, of character, of unstable identities, of a world beyond the mask. In this guise the architectural carvings make visible the unseen life-force of the building. Carved into crucial architectural elements these sculptures are the building. The energy they carry is also the energy of the life of their creators and their material and spiritual worlds.
Alex Woodcock was a stonemason at Exeter Cathedral. Following degrees in archaeology at Leicester and York he completed his PhD thesis on medieval architectural sculpture at the University of Southampton and then studied stonecarving and buildings conservation at Weymouth College. He has published several articles and books, most recently Gargoyles and Grotesques. He is also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.