Six Lions Lying Around (Mmm… Marginalia #23)

For the sixth day of Christmas,* Got Medieval gives to you six lions laying lying around (in the bottom margin):


The two-page spread above is from Bodleian Library MS Douce 185,*** a peculiar little fourteenth-century Cistercian Sermologium made in the border region between Germany and Switzerland. As you can see, the illuminator here has used borders along the top margin and columns to evoke the outline of a cathedral, turning the whole page into one compound decoration. At the bottom of the compound, holding everything up, are six little lions.  (They are a little hard to see at this resolution, so either click the above image to zoom, or keep on reading.)

Starting in the lower left corner, we have this bemused-looking lion whose tail provides a perch for a marginal violinist:

To his right, we find a lazy lion, curled up like a housecat, and to his right, another musician-supporting lion, this one with a flutist in tow.   


Because he’s in the crease between the two pages, it’s hard to make out without an extreme closeup, but this third lion is much less tolerant of his human parasite, his expression something along the lines of, “Good God, man, you do realize that that is my tail, don’t you?”  By contrast, the fourth lion on the page is completely obvlivious to his musical companion and instead seems to be contemplating taking a bite of the acanthus leaf decoration attached to the column on his back.  The lion to his right is hungry, too, but seems to be considering the words, instead.  


Or, possibly, he’s thirsty and preparing to “drink” the word ‘liquide‘ immediately above him and to the left. His tongue is hanging out, after all.

That leaves us with one final lion on the far right who has a dancing maiden on his tail:


I might be reading too much into his expression, but he seems to me a bit happier about his tail-borne companion than the lions with musicians, sort of a “Hey there, baby, check out the column on my back. Impressive, eh? Say, what are you doing once that monk out there flips the page? I know this charming little restaurant. The head waiter is a bishop with a rooster’s head where his private parts should be, but he’s totally cool. Let’s say I pick you up around eight?”

Incidentally, if you were wondering, the main historiated initial on the left hand page is of the Annunciation. That’s Mary on the right and the archangel Gabriel there on the left. The scroll he’s holding is the medieval-equivalent of a comic-strip dialogue balloon. It reads, “Ave gratia plena dominus tecum benedicta tu,” or “Hail (Mary), full of grace, God is with you, you are blessed.”

*Oh, and by the way, you’re not allowed to read this post until December 31st, the sixth day of Christmas.**
**This is why you’ve got to check the footnotes, people.
***Why so many Douce manuscripts in Mmm… Marginalia? Mr. Douce was an avid collector of medieval illuminated manuscripts, possibly the most active and successful ever.  You could spend a career just studying manuscripts he bought.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lord William Star Breaker

    The dancing maiden looks more like she’s staving off a yeoman’s clumsy romantic advances.

    ‘Hmph. I’ve heard that line before!’

  • clio’s disciple

    These lions are utterly charming. Can we expect to see lion madness at cafepress also?

  • Got Medieval

    When CafePress starts selling decorative column bases, I’ll be all over that.

  • Gabriele C.

    You gotta love those tongue in cheek and upside down world manuscript illustrations.

    I collect the stone versions in photo form. Here are some monsters, and here’s a hunting gone wrong.

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