Needs More Naked (Mmm… Marginalia #103)

I know I probably come off like some sort of pervazoid,* what with all the naked snail-riding,** tree-nesting genitalia, and the rest of the medieval porn lying around the place.*** But it’s hardly my fault. I start an innocent line of research, and there it is, staring me in the face. Like tonight, I was working on a post about medieval and modern framing conventions.**** In need of a fresh image of a blemmyae, I started poking around in the library catalogs, until I stumbled across this:

Oh, sure, it’s just a random naked dude cold chilling in the upper margin. Hardly worth comment, really. I’ve featured far worse than that over the years. It’s just I wasn’t really expecting to find him in the margins of a book described by the Yale Press thus:

Produced for a nun at the turn of the fourteenth century, […the Rothschild Canticles] served as an aid to mystical devotions in which images played as central a role as the written word. Visionary depictions of Paradise, the Song of Songs, the Virgin Mary, the Trinity, and hundreds of other subjects based on texts ranging from the Bible to the Lives of the Desert Fathers together form a devotional program that transports the reader toward contemplative union with God.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions they say, but has anyone ever said that the road toward contemplative union with God is paved with naked dudes? Because it’s not just the one. And it’s not just that they’re naked. They’re naked posing with swords:

Naked posing with a sword and poised to lop off his own leg:*****

Naked and pretending to be Wile E. Coyote–lookout, little dog things!:

Naked and being juggled by a plate spinner:

Naked and hanging upside down over a guy who seems to be offering his extended rump as a landing cushion:

Naked and jousting another naked guy while riding a goat backwards:

Naked and swinging a stork around by its neck while his naked friend humps a dog:

How do we square all this nakidity with a collection of inspirational prayers and lessons made for a nun to aid in spiritual communion with the divine? I suppose we could always do as one scholar did, in this, my favorite footnote ever:******

2 The marginalia present an additional powerful counterpart to the framed images; however, the meaning attached to their presence is not within the scope of this article.

Punted like a pro. Me, I’m too easily distracted by the margins to be able to discuss the apparent gender ambiguity of Christ in the main image on a page and its implications for normative heterosexualized spiritual desire without going “Hey, look, a monkey!”

A monkey, I might add, who seems to be getting awful friendly with that red-footed gryllus there.*******

  1. * My official pervazoid ranking is a rather unimpressive Number 57–hardly in the same class as the esteemed Flopper Mr. Dan McCoy, Pervazoid Number 1. []
  2. ** Not to be confused with naked-snail riding. []
  3. *** Even in the prayer books! []
  4. **** Less boring than it sounds. []
  5. ***** I hope it’s the leg he’s aiming for. []
  6. ****** And I’m a guy who knows a little something about footnotes. []
  7. ******* But figuring out why is beyond the scope of this post. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • H Stiles

    Nakidity?! Surely nakedness! Oops – lost my fig leaf! Nice post.

    • Got Medieval

      Oops.  I meant nekkidity, of course.  My bad.

    • Got Medieval

      Oops.  I meant nekkidity, of course.  My bad.

  • Linda C. McCabe


    Thanks for sharing that was great.  The nekkid dudes in a book for a nun?  Really?  These pictures reminded me of the interview Stephen Colbert did with Maurice Sendak.  Stephen brought up one of Maurice’s picture books where a boy is depicted doing all kinds of things in a dream where he is naked.  Stephen finds the imagery of disturbing and then “improves” it.

    Have a great Thesis Thursday.


  • Richardjohnguy

    Fantastic, thank you. Note how the levitating dude seems to have entirely lost his nethers, but his hands still seem to be telling some sort of story. Can you tell if they were excised or simply never drawn in?

    • Got Medieval

      Hard to say definitively without looking at the actual page, but it sure looks to me like they’ve been smudged away–whether intentionally, to remove the offending member, or unintentionally, from too often pointing to said member with dirty fingers, I can’t say.

      • Jonathan Jarrett

        I was wondering about that, because all the ones you showed are either posed to avoid displaying the last turkey in the shop, or else as there have it erased. Was that your choice, or the actual illuminator’s cunning?

  • richard guy

    Fantastic, thank you. Note how the levitating dude seems to have entirely lost his nethers, but his hands still seem to be telling some sort of story. Can you tell if they were excised or simply never drawn in?

  • Jennifer Lynn Jordan

    Did that first naked guy discover the GQ pose?  This could be a huge discovery.

  • Lena

    >> “Naked and pretending to be Wile E. Coyote–lookout, little dog things!” << sure the one on the right is a dog. Its the other one that will hunt me in my sleep. An un-doggy nose, a mohock and an opposable thumb on his left hand…  Could it be a monkey?

     The last one killed me – seems the only reason monkey's getting any action is cause RedFoot is trying to make his girlfriend (top left) jealous…

    • Fnord Prefect Fnord

       it’s a garden gnome.

  • Kiwimedievalist

    I was wondering if they were part of the original illuminations, or whether this is the nun, doodling when she’s meant to be contemplating?  

    • Got Medieval

      Actually, most if not all of them were added by a later round of illuminators.  I meant to mention that in the post.  That’s why I titled it ‘Needs more naked’, actually.  For the record, medievals didn’t tend to doodle in full color.  The nun who owned the book had to go down to the local scriptorium and put in an order for a professional to add all the naked dudes.

      • Aven

         Does it make a difference that none of the naked dudes have genitalia, at least visible? Are they more “innocent pre-fall” naked than “sexy/lewd/rude” naked? Or even “no possessions” naked? Or am I reaching, here?

      • Fnord Prefect Fnord

         They naked guys weren’t in full color though. Some red and even less tan. Some parts, esp. the hand on the stork thing, and maybe the dog-humper seem to be added later than the colored marginalia.  That is, the stork-strangler seems newer than the stork. The margin bunnies(behaving nicely for once) seem older than the naked guys nearby. And the clothed people seem to be drawn by a different hand.

        The naked dudes are drawn more crudely in places(look at the arms on the guy hanging by his feet), have charcoaly sketch marks still visible, and no explicit genitals.

        the one over the plate-spinner seems to have had something rubbed out where his manly bits belong. Maybe an ignorant virgin nun tried to add manparts but didn’t know enough to make them look satisfactory? Any chance of an enlargement?

        All this fits with may guess that there was some marginalia before the naked-dude drawer added to it. The drawing is consistent with someone who has some drawing talent but little training. Or maybe there were two sets of nakeds, one by a pro and others added later as *gasp* actual doodles.

        I foudn your(insert superlative complimentary word) blog yesterday through facebook and am working through the archives.

        I heart marginalia.

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  • Kristine Hunt

    I already have you in my feed reader, but I got to this post via the “News of belief from the web” sidebar here:

    Thought that was pretty darn amusing.

  • Jacquelyn Gill

    I like to imagine that these are caricatures of a particularly mean or hypocritical higher-up. 🙂

  • StroppyAuthor

    I was going to say those marginalia were added later…. but you’ve said it in the comments. Is there a good reason to assume the nun had to go to the scriptorium and ask for them to be added, rather than adding them herself? Do you know the provenance? Maybe some anchorite with nothing to do in her cell but draw naked dudes in her books….

    Fantastic post, by the way – love it!

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  • Fnord Prefect Fnord

     sorry that last post was me but it ate my identity.

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