Mmm… Marginalia: Medieval Breakdancing?!?

This week’s medieval marginal image comes from an early 14th-century Festal Psalter (The Hague, KB, 78 D 40), available at the excellent, if slow, website of the National Library of the Netherlands.

This subject of our image is the famous Dance of Salome. You remember Salome from Sunday school, right? * If you’ve seen pictures of her, they probably looked more like these:**

As the masters of understatement who edit the Wikipedia put it, “This Biblical story has long been a favourite of painters, since it offers a chance to depict oriental splendour, semi-nude women, and exotic scenery under the auspices of a Biblical subject.”

The illuminator of our manuscript decided instead to take the opportunity to depict a woman with no skeleton, or possibly the first recorded instance of breakdancing. Somehow, this is not how I pictured the famous Dance of Seven Veils–a fully clothed woman bending herself into the letter “O” and winking back at me while she does.

Like last week’s image, this one, too, is paired with another to its left in the bottom margin. There’s not much to say about it, but here it is, for completeness’ sake, the scene of Salome receiving John the Baptist’s head, her reward for the forbidden dance of back-bending passion:

Since JtB’s head appears to have retained its halo after his death, Salome is now the proud owner of the world’s most gruesome night light.

*Or perhaps you saw her in that Oscar Wilde play where she’s a necrophiliac. Depends where you spend your Sundays, I guess.
**Those pictures are High Art,™ and not prurient at all, and I’d buy your outrage more if I didn’t know where you spend your Sundays.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • pilgrimchick

    Very cool. That must be some kick ass music that guy is playing there.

  • Decidedly Bookish

    Hey, I’ve been a big fan of yours for a while. Just started my own Medieval blog: if you feel like checking it out.


  • rory brown

    Can anyone help me get to larger images from this book? are they still available on the national library of the netherlands? I’m most interested in the fox wheel of fortune from the next post. 

  • Got Medieval

    That’s actually something that broke when I moved from blogspot to a self-hosted WordPress install. I’ll get to fixing it… eventually. For the time being, drop by the’s website and you should find the original image.

  • rory brown

    the link from the page gives me a
    Page not found (404)
    and I’m far too stupid to find the images on the site. Little help?

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