Gravity (in the Margins) is a Harsh Mistress (Mmm… Marginalia #94)

How is it that I’ve written so often about gravity on the margins of gothic manuscript pages, and yet I’ve never referenced my favorite Tick quote in the title of a post until now?

This week’s marginalia comes from a thirteenth-century manuscript, the Psalter of Margaret the Black, Countess of Flanders and Hainault*, and you need to see the full-page context to get the joke:

Images of men hunting hares with dogs are so common in illuminated manuscripts, we usually don’t even mention them in the catalogs of images.** But this poor hunter here is a clever riff on the standard presentation. He and his dogs seem to be learning the hard way about that page gravity*** I’m always on about. Their prey–that smug little hare–has somehow made its way up into the upper margin, and since there are no convenient floreate extensions for the hound and hunter to use to scale the page, she is thus safe from hound predation. All the one dog can do is gnaw the border in frustration:

While the other hound does his best “I could’ve sworn there was a hare here a moment ago…”:

By the by, if you’re wondering how much cash you need to be willing to shell out to own a manuscript like this, Black Meg’s psalter sold at Christie’s this past July for a cool $147K.

  1. * Daughter of the lady that Orlando bloom flirts with in that movie. []
  2. ** My personal theory is that  when illuminators wanted to knock off early for the day, they just tossed off a quick hunting scene and skipped out. []
  3. *** For those of you who don’t slavishly follow my marginalia posts, as weird and trippy as gothic manuscript illumination might seem, there are nonetheless rules that the figures must generally obey.  One of those rules is the law of gravity. Figures must stand on top of or hang from the borders; they can’t travel through the open white space of the page. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • c @ penbrushneedle

    Yeah, one really wonders how that hare made it to the top of the page. But looking back at your post of January 17th, I can’t help the suspicion that a trumpet might have played a certain role in it…

  • arby

    The Tick?! The Tick?! Oh hell yeah! rb

  • JRC

    My favorite tick quote is “It’s a secret message…from my teeth.”

  • Jonathan Jarrett

    I put it to you, sir, that that second hound is no dog but a lemur. Stripy tail! I know of no dog that could match that. Seriously though: are we sure it’s meant to be a hunting dog? Or is the gag actually that this beast, which the huntsman and his dog were chasing, has suddenly found the pursuit stopped, and looking round in astonishment it finds that much to the hunter’s frustration, his dog has got distracted by trying to climb the margin after that hare?

    • Got Medieval

      Not impossible, but other than the stripy tail, the second creature strikes me as doglike in most of the important ways.

    • Angus

      Nice theory, and a funny ‘alternate’ gag. The striped tail is quite distinctive, though according to Wikipedia lemurs are native only to Madagascar.

  • S.


  • lindamller

    Looks to me like an early demonstration of cartoon physics…see “Duck Amuck” for similar abuse of the picture frame.

  • Pingback: Hey, remember when I used to do that weekly marginalia post thing… — Got Medieval

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