(Dis)functional Faces: Signs of the Monstrous?

  • Emily Cock
  • Patricia Skinner
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


To what extent were people with non-normative faces in medieval and early modern Europe considered disabled or monstrous, and under what conditions was or can the distinction be made? Owing to its forefront position on the body, the face plays a uniquely important role in social interaction and subject identification. Facial disfigurements are difficult to hide and evoke strong and usually negative responses from viewers and the individual or group affected. Examining cases in which the face is considered disabled—by the individual or onlookers—will clarify the definition and expected functions of the face and its components in this period. Our focus will be the relationship between visible facial difference and sexual transgression. Causing injury to the face was an acknowledged punishment for sexual offenders, such as adulterers and prostitutes, imposing a physical expression of their monstrous behavior. The detrimental effects of related diseases, lifestyle, and so on can also be read as the outward manifestations of inner corruption. Comparing examples from medieval and early modern Europe enables greater theoretical insight into the historical relationship between facial form and functionality, and their impairment.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily Cock
    • 1
  • Patricia Skinner
    • 2
  1. 1.School of History, Archaeology and ReligionCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  2. 2.Department of History, College of Arts and HumanitiesSwansea UniversitySwanseaUK

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