the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Marginalia as Subversive? : Part 1 of 2 (A Teaser)

Posted by gninja on June 3, 2006

The image below is discussed in Michael Camille's Image on the Edge, a book that really shook things up in medieval art history. (As a personal note, if Camille were alive, I'd have done all I could to get to work with him.)

This is a page from the Rutland Psalter, from around the year 1250:


These folios contain the text of Psalm 67, verses 8-26. In order not to clutter the content I will include the full text of the psalm, both Latin and English, on the comments page. While I would like to have the content directly available here, formatting the double-columned text is tricky, so I'll have to include the text of Psalm 67 as a link.

As you might have guessed, the thing I'd really like to discuss is the curious image at the bottom of the right-hand folio (the verso). But first, let's describe what we see.

We see two pages of text, each with twenty lines of writing. On the left of each folio is a painted border including rubricated initials for the beginning of each verse. In lines that contain text which does not run to the end of the folio, ornamental pen flourishes complete the line, thus creating a solid and even block of text and pen marks. Hovering at the bottom of the left border is a fantastical, hybrid creature.

On the bottom of each folio are marginal illustrations, one of an armed man riding an ostrich, and the other of a nude man flashing his buttocks to the man-bird duo. Not exactly something we would expect to see in a religious book, is it?

But these curious and salacious images were not at all rare in religious manuscripts of the Middle Ages. And just how these bizarre images function will be the topic of my next post.

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