Note: Luxuria has been wantonly mis-translated into English as Lust,
whereas in French the word - luxure - retains its original meaning, distinct from le luxe.

It might better be translated as Debauchery or The Lechery of Luxury.

The word
Lechery comes from the French lècher, to lick.
It really means the carnal hedonism and debauchery of the rich - currently the 'Celebrity Life-style',
the excesses of pop-music bands and their groupies,

the 'play-hard' mindset of bankers, fund-managers and billionaires,
and the outrageous debaucheries of many mediæval prelates.

It necessarily involves wealth, the amassing of which was, in Latin, Avaritia.
The word was originally employed by the Romans to group together a variety of behaviours
considered dangerous to Republican virtue.


Although men are included in the medieval Christian concept, it is mainly applied misogynistically to women of means and their tendency to beautify themselves with finery, jewels and make-up which incite men to lustful behaviour.

For more on the Deadly (or Capital Sins), read here.

While wealthy men were punished by hell-fire for exploiting the poor
(and depriving the monasteries of income),
the standard eternal punishment for the debauchery of wealthy women
was to have 'unclean' creatures forever sucking at their breasts.
These creatures were usually snakes (echoing Eve), but sometimes also toads.

Romanesque shorthand, Bañuelos del Rudrón (Burgos)

1. Vézelay (Yonne)

Capital of the richly-decorated nave.

now go to Ireland


2. Ôo (Haute-Garonne)

Copy of bas-relief from the rustic parish church, now in the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse.







3a. l'Octogone, Montmorillon (Vienne)
3b. Mailhat (Puy-de-Dôme)

Two variations on the theme of entwining snakes..

photo by Tina Negus

4. The right-hand side of the Porta de la Gloria at Santiago de Compostela also shows Luxuria
with snakes coiling around her legs.

5. At Sangüesa (Navarra) she holds one of her breasts and accompanies the damned into Hell - symbolised by the grinning, toothy monster below.

6. Church of Saint-Hilaire, Melle (Deux-Sèvres): a very eroded figure with hands clasped in prayer
or supplication between two suckling snakes.

photo by Tina Negus

7. Väte (Gotland), Sweden: this figure suckles two large snakes,
while a toad and an asp are looking for nipples in her armpits: the sign of a witch.
This is truly a 'Witch on the Wall'.

photo by Kjartan Hauglid


8. The celebrated and eroded snake-suckler to the left of the doorway at Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne).
On the left, a demon with bloated belly and hairy claws spews a toad in her direction...


...while a toad also tries to insert itself into her vagina.

She grips her palms in pain and horror, while her face contorts in the agony of the damned.


Stylistically related are these fragments at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (Corrèze), photographed by Adrian Fletcher.
The rich man is being ridden into Hell by a devil.
The figure on the left may be Gluttony, having 'licked the platter clean'.

9. Guitinières (Charente-Maritime): Here monsters are pulling the woman's tresses,
while, on the other part of the double capital, stands an enigmatic beast biting (or spewing) tendrils.

10. At San Quirce (Burgos) handsome monsters bite her hands...


11...while at Châteaumeillant (Cher) Luxuria is represented by a splay-legged female exhibitionist who grasps two serpents
which are attempting to bite or enter her ears.

12. This figure at Villeneuve d'Aveyron (Aveyron) is in similar style,
but the snakes are sucking her breasts. I cannot interpret the threatening or warning ?ecclesiastic figure on the left.
He is not a horn-blower sounding the Last Trump.

13. At Castelviel (Gironde), Luxuria is, unusually, fully clothed - like
Terra at the same period..

photo by Julianna Lees

14. Compare this example at Limalonges (Charente)...

...with a fourth-century bas-relief of Dionysus - from Egypt,


15. Bordeaux (Gironde), Sainte-Croix, archivolt of doorway


16. Bordeaux (Gironde), Sainte-Croix, the complete southern archivolt of the doorway.
Avaritia is depicted on another archivolt.

17. Bouresse (Vienne): Luxuria, richly braided, sticks out her tongue as she dances.
On the right is a figure entwined by snakes.

18. At Amboise (Indre-et-Loire) a richly-carved capital shows a female acrobat or jongleresse
and a ?male entwined with writhing snakes on either side of a seated or enthroned figure
flanked by a devil and a beast with snakes.

19. A remarkable horned (Satanic) Luxuria on the cathedral of St. Maurice, Vienne (Rhône-Alpes).

20. A rare tongue-sticking, mouth-pulling, Gorgon-like Luxuria on a cloister capital at Tarragona, Spain.

compare with a Mithraic altar in Bordeaux


21. A corbel on the basilica of San Isidoro (León) emphasises breasts in a rather baroque - and modern - way,
suggesting inspiration from representations of Terra.

click for more at San Isidoro


22. A corbel on the church of Lomilla de Aguilar (Palencia), which, like the broken corbel at Archingeay,
directly connects the motif of Luxuria with that of the Exhibitionist.


23. Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux-Sèvres).


24. Vouvant (Vendée)

25. Osorno la Mayor (Palencia), Spain.

An example doubly unusual for being on a font
and for featuring a Centaur-Sagittarius as divine instrument of punishment.
Daniel in the Lions' den is also illustrated.

26. A font at Rebanal de las Llantas (Palencia)
Eve as Luxuria, with Adam.
This font also has a vielle-player and an evil procuress pushing a naked male by his buttocks towards a female.


27. Double Luxuria, possibly lesbian, at Arthous (Landes)


28. Sacra di San Michele, Val di Susa, (Italy)


29. Uncastillo (Zaragoza), Spain.

This sculpture of the highest quality shows a woman straddling a man, grasping his beard,
while a (or The) serpent whispers encouragement in her ear.
Meanwhile another serpent bites the gentleman's balls.

It is very much a depiction of Luxuria, the debauchery of wealth (note the fine clothes).


Click for the connection with Terra and snakes >


30. Königslutter in Lower Saxony: Luxuria with Concupiscent Snake-spewing Hares ?
These carvings are part of a '
Hunting Frieze' not so dissimilar from the façade at Cordes.


31. A rare example on a corbel (right) at Matabaniega (Palencia).


32. Soest (Westphalia, Germany), Hohnekirche.


33. Cinteaux (Calvados) : a crude doorway-capital, open to interpretation.
It could be that long-haired Luxuria is being groped by two males, the presence of snakes doubtful.
The 'spotty' effect is a feature of late-Romanesque churches in the area.


34 Boulon (Calvados) : a rare example of a clothed male,
homme aux serpents with the snakes at his ears, reminiscent of some
Irish carvings
of standing male figures flanked by 'whispering beasts'


See a remote and rustic exhibitionist interpretation of Luxuria in Ireland >

and interpretations and variations on the theme in rural Denmark >


Adultery and Luxury being punished in Hell
Herrad von Landsberg's 12th century manuscript.


A fourteenth century illustration of Luxuria/Avaritia in hell
(note that both are crowned)

with Luxuria/Vanitas about to join them.

(Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 22913, detail of f.370r. Augustine, De Civitate Dei
in the French translation of Raoul de Presles (Books XI-XXII). 1370-1380)


The most shocking depiction of Luxuria, however, depicts her without snakes >

while another shows her clothed and tormented 'only' by demons:

St-Papoul (Aude) capital attributed to 'The Master of Cabestany'.

An Italian figure which may be Luxuria - or a high-class whore >


Girona, the cloisters. The flames of Hell are licking the groin of the figure on the left.

In this 15th century Italian 'throwback', recently sold in London by Sothebys,
Luxuria (snakeless) is about to be devoured by a rather noble-looking lion instead of the terrible jaws of Hell.


Is this scrotal-exhibitionist male at Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat (Haute-Vienne) indicating his anus with one hand
while touching his head with the other - or is a snake issuing from his anus up behind his head and over his shoulder ?


I wonder if the Latin word Luxuria derives from Lux (light):
luxury as emancipation from living as a slave in the cellar,
or in a dark hovel in a Roman or Neapolitan slum...?


Recent additions:


Regensburg (Bavaria), Schottenkloster.


Bloxham (Oxfordshire), detail of chancel window.

Is this a reduced (disembodied) post-Romanesque Luxuria,
or a representation of the punishment of the sins of speech (blasphemy, calumny, etc.) ?


Found on the odious pinterest site, with no information.


Langogne (Lozère) : a delightful rustic capital featuring giant serpents
and a little chair or prie-dieu.


Pavia (museum).


Sacra di San Michele, Piemonte.

At Manzanedo (Burgos) Luxuria has become completely abstract.


MORE PHOTOS byMartin M. Miles on FLICKR >


Music, Luxury and a devil holding a sandglass - 16th century.
(Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, Cod. Guelf. A Aug. 2°, detail of folio.347.
Septem missae solemnes cum notis musicis,


By the Renaissance, the theme of Luxury had advanced with the times,
become more detailed and at the same time secular,
with a cherub in attendance.

Death, the final boundary -
Engraving made by Sebald Beham after Barthel Beham.


Compare with depictions of Terra and a Mithraic altar in Bordeaux.


Detail of a pulpit at Gropina (Lazio), which depicts an unsexed acrobatic Luxuria
and a matching two-tailed mermaid with luxuriant hair.

These two figures also echo pre-Romanesque images of Earth and Sea.


12,000-year old figure from Göbekli Tepe at Urfa Museum, SE Anatolia.



There are more Luxuria carvings to be viewed at Art Roman et Rapports à la Nudité >