Document Type



Final Published Version

Publication Title

Hortus Artium Medievalium



Publication Date



Opinions on the meaning of the reused objects known as spolia range from Michael Greenhalgh’s position that in 95% of cases, reuse was purely pragmatic to Maria Fabricius Hansen’s claim that the spolia in fourth-century church colonnades represented a Christian worldview in which spolia were potent metaphors of a new world order. Studies of twelfth-century Rome have tended to interpret the use of spolia as an expression of papal ideology and the spirit of the twelfth-century renovatio. This essay evaluates these alternatives and proposes an interpretation informed by semiotic theory but grounded in contextual terminology and the physical and intellectual ambience of the time and place of reuse. It appears that in twelfth-century Rome, reused objects were thought of in their original capacities (as columns, sarcophagi, etc.) and as antiques, rather than as spolia. Semiotic theory offers models for reconstructing the connotative and affective meanings of such antiques, while Biblical exegesis confirms that metaphor was a predominant mode of interpretation in the twelfth century and is especially relevant to Roman church interiors.