Fun With Detachable Heads (Mmm… Marginalia #36)

Everyone ready for the next installment of the Vows of the Peacock Blogasmic Extravaganza, or whatever it was I was supposed to be calling it? This week, I’m serving up an extra helping of marginal images from Pierpont Morgan Library MS G24.

One of the recurring themes of the manuscript, as I’ve detailed before, is people with detachable parts. Like these guys, the flipside of the old two-heads-are-better-than-one saw:

My apologies, but it appears that this is the second week in a row* that Mmm… Marginalia is featuring a sketchy marginal phallus, here drawn in by the illuminator no doubt so that we can all be clear on what battle-tactic the headless body on the left is employing. You’ve got to fight dirty if you want to get a head, it would seem.

Animal/human hybrids, grotesques and other bizarre amalgamations of parts are all pretty normal for marginal illuminators. If I had a dime for every bishop’s head I’ve seen stuck to a dragon’s hind end, for instance, I could afford to pay full price for the horrible X-Box 360 Beowulf game. But otherwise normal people juggling their own body parts is something I’ve only seen in this manuscript. But that’s not all. Detached heads appear to have an independent free-range existence in the margins of MS G24, as evidenced by these two bodiless noggins:

Judging by this image, it would seem that disembodied heads have a natural predator in the fearsome monkey-headed scoop mouth serpent, which is why, I imagine, the head up top has taken refuge in that rather small brick oven.

Now, there is one context that you often see disembodied heads in manuscripts, and that is in decorated initial capitals, sometimes called portrait capitals.** I might be going a step to far with this one, but, to me, it looks like this headless bishop in the image below is providing us with a demonstration of how portrait initials are made:

We seem to have caught him either 1) preparing to attach his head to one of the initial capitals, or 2) retrieving his head from said decoration, possibly so that he may attach it to a dragon’s hind end a few pages later.

*But, I vow: no marginal phalli for at least a week after this. Maybe two!
**As longtime readers might recall, I discussed the fun that the Yale Lancelot illuminator has with these a while back.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • beatrixherald

    So the Phallus is indeed Sketchy, but looking at the feet of these bodies, it is clear the illuminator’s style is the same for both members.

    Perhaps all the phalluses (Phallii? I don’t do latin very well) are the reason they didnt want women reading books…

  • henchminion

    That first picture looks familiar. I’ve seen variations of it in other manuscripts. I think it’s a swordfighting joke. The figures are doing fancy footwork and grappling moves, but they’ve neglected to save their own necks.

  • Got Medieval

    Excellent finds, my henchminion. Now, go out and obtain for me a shrubbery.

  • Fnord Prefect Fnord

    th bishop’s head is winking.

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