The King in the Wheel of the Senses

from From

"The doctrine of the common sense and the underlying concept of synaesthesia—in fact, the concept itself of its tradition, namely the analogy of the point and its development into the center of the circle—can be well illustrated by the so-called Wheel of the Five Senses, a medieval wall painting in Longthorpo Tower (near Peterborough, England) discovered some fifty years ago and said to have been made before 1340.

The painting portrays the figure of a king standing behind a five-spoked wheel which he apparently holds in place with his left hand. The king's head is turned toward his right as he seems to look over a spider web outside the wheel. Surrounding the wheel, from the king's right to his left, at the points where the spokes connect to the rim, are five animals: a spider in its web, a eagle or vulture, a monkey, a cock, and a boar. According to a passage from De rerum natura by Thomas of Cantimpré, each of the five animals represents a sense18. Now for our purpose, this painting may be considered as the first known visual representation19 of the connections among the five senses, both in relation to the sense of touch (scholastically understood as the most important sense, in that it is the foundation of all senses and the closest "to the fontal root", that is common sense)20 and in relation to the king, who may be considered to represent man's ratio.

Insofar as the process of perception is concerned, we may therefore say that each animal, taken by itself, represents the "aesthetic" or sense level. The fact that in the painting the senses are correlated to the rim of the wheel is quite significant. The spokes may represent the sensorial channels of perceptions leading to a center, the hub of the wheel—an inter-aesthetic point where decodification and integration of various sensory perceptions take place. This area is under the control of the common sense, which sets up for the ratio, and hence for the intellect, the associational meaning of two or more sensory perceptions. For our discussion, then, we may call this painting in Longthorpe Tower not simply The Wheel of the Five Senses, but The Synaesthetic Wheel.


S Y N A E S T H E S I A ----------------------------------- AND
The Wheel of the Five Senses of Longthorpe Tower

Longthorpe Tower is located near Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire. For practical information please go to Information Britain