This Post Symbolizes Postiness

Looks like* the Morgan Library recently digitized selections from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves and put them on the web, which is awesome**. I’m less impressed by the commentary included with the newly available images, full of observations like “the many rabbits symbolize fertility” and “the peas symbolize fertility” and, presumably, on the later pages after I gave up reading, “hell, all this crap symbolizes fertility, really.” But my biggest complaint is how often the commenter sees what they know they should be seeing, instead of what’s actually on the page. Take this image, for instance:

Here we have a closeup on a larger image of Sts. Joachim and Anne, father and mother to St. Mary, in a pose the website’s annotator helpfully describes as “the joyous meeting of Joachim and Anne at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate, where they tenderly embrace, sharing their delight in the prospect of parenting a child in their advanced years.” To me, Anne’s expression looks at least as much like nausea as joy, but that might be due to a lack of detail on the part of the artist. But, regardless, I don’t see how anyone could read that dead-eyed grimace on the old man’s face as “delight”–unless, of course, knowing that the meeting is supposed to be joyful, they just ignore what’s right in front of their eyes.

Sadly, the commenter also largely ignores the marginalia–except the fertility peas–which is largely devoted to creatures eating or otherwise destroying in creative ways the vegetative borders they inhabit. We see what we want to see, I guess. Me, I want to see more of this guy, who lives in the lower right-hand margin of the page devoted to Christ’s crucifixion:

I don’t know what he’s planning to do with that blue leaf, but I’m pretty sure it won’t symbolize Christ’s passion. Maybe fertility, though.

*Why no, I don’t get all my news from BoingBoing, why do you ask?
**…but would be more awesome if it they just provided access to the full-sized scans instead of embedding them in an annoying image browser that forces you to click and drag to pan around the page instead of looking at it all at once–but I digress.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anne F. Harris

    Medieval facial expressions are truly puzzling – it seems that only the lowly and the grotesque get to really express themselves (and always in lowly and grotesque ways). The dignified and stately, presumably Joachim and Anna are among these, must maintain that insufferable reserve. Mary does start to crack a demure smile in the 13/14th century, but it's still pretty reserved. My favorite (most absurd) examples are initials of the _Song of Songs_ (bar none, the sexiest poem ever written) that depict The Bride and Groom (the soul and God/Christ, Mary and Christ – what have you) actually kissing, but with utterly serious faces and completely open eyes. Let me know if you'd like to see some (I don't quite know how to attach an image to a comment!).

  • Got Medieval

    This particular artist is no slouch, so it wouldn't surprise me to find that Joachim's story-breaking expression is purposeful. It reminds me a lot of the Oy Vey Joseph I discussed some time ago.

  • Anne F. Harris

    Could it be that Joachim was dreaming of an easy-going retirement and is now facing the reality of diapers and swaddling and getting corral for the baby to teeth on?
    p.s. your blog is terrific! thank you so much for It All!

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