In religion in ancient Rome, an aedicula (plural aediculae) is a small shrine. The word aedicula is the diminutive of the Latin aedes, a temple building or house.
Many aediculae were household shrines that held small altars or statues of the Lares and Penates. The Lares were Roman deities protecting the house and the family household gods. The Penates were originally patron gods (really genii) of the storeroom, later becoming household gods guarding the entire house.
Other aediculae were small shrines within larger temples, usually set on a base, surmounted by a pediment and surrounded by columns. In Roman architecture the aedicula has this representative function in the society. They are installed in public buildings like the Triumphal arch, City gate, or Thermes. The Celsus Library in Ephesus (2. c. AD) is a good example. From the 4th century Christianization of the Roman Empire onwards such shrines, or the framework enclosing them, are often called by the Biblical term tabernacle, which becomes extended to any elaborated framework for a niche, window or picture.
As in Classical architecture, in Gothic architecture, too, an aedicule or tabernacle frame is a structural framing device that gives importance to its contents, whether an inscribed plaque, a cult object, a bust or the like, by assuming the tectonic vocabulary of a little building that sets it apart from the wall against which it is placed. A tabernacle frame on a wall serves similar hieratic functions as a free-standing, three-dimensional architectural baldaquin or a ciborium over an altar.
In Late Gothic settings, altarpieces and devotional images were customarily crowned with gables and canopies supported by clustered-column piers, echoing in small the architecture of Gothic churches. Painted ædicules frame figures from sacred history in initial letters of Illuminated manuscripts.
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