A Little Something Classy for the Patron (Mmm… Marginalia #116)

Regarding last week’s marginal horse-on-man action,*  a reader contacted me off blog to ask, “What’s been blotted out there in between the horse guy and the rabbit?”–by which the curious reader meant this:

If you missed this blatant manuscript defacement before–and who wouldn’t, with that dashing bridled man on the left drawing the eye–it’s cool. What once was there, now damaged beyond recognition, is that most useful of manuscript illuminations, the original patron’s coat of arms. Nobles who directly commissioned manuscripts often instructed the illuminators to include their coats of arms, so that all who gazed upon the commissioned book would know exactly whose wealth was squandered on its lavish decorations. You might keep such a tagged manuscript on display in your personal library or gift it to a friend or potential ally–though in that case, it’d probably be a good idea to include the giftee’s coat of arms, too, at least on a couple of pages.**

So why the defacement? Usually it’s my oldest foil Reynard the Fox social mobility that’s to blame. Say you’re a noble who’s fallen on hard times. That fancy manuscript with all the penis trees in the margins might fetch enough to keep you in lavishly embroidered surcoats for at least a few more months, so off it goes to the consignment shop. Now say you’re an up and coming middle class type,*** and you’d like a couple of manuscripts around the house you just bought cheap off some other impoverished noble–y’know, class the place up, with the butt trumpetry and all that. You’re not likely to want to keep the old owner’s coat all splattered on everything, especially if you’ve managed to purchase a coat of arms of your own. Fetch hither the pumice stone, time to rub and scrape away the offending evidence of someone else’s patronage!

This particular manuscript, though, its damage is probably coincidental,**** as there are still some other pages in the manuscript bedecked with the owner’s original coat. But since I don’t have any good pics of those, here’s an example of an intact coat from a manuscript held at the same library:

As you might expect (and current exemplars notwithstanding), coat-of-arms pages tend as a rule to be more conservatively decorated than other pages in the manuscript. Wouldn’t want to detract from the stately splendor of a shield wrapped up in ivy. That’s another reason I was glad to come across last post’s image and the one above. These manuscript patrons were unafraid of marginal hijinks detracting from their familes’ good names. And just for giggles, care to wager a guess as to what the monkey on the right of the coat immediately above is shooting at, or what the monkeys to the left are up to? Got your guesses all together? Good. Here we go:

OK, so the first one was a gimme. Of course the one monkey is shooting another monkey’s willingly offered butt. That’s just what marginal monkeys do with their butts, when they’re not having other stuff stuck up there.

[Update 7-13-12: Actually… it looks like my old enemy Not Tagging Images As I Download Them has struck again. The proffered monkey-butt is actually from a different image I found in the same manuscript image repository. Should’ve noticed that his floriate border isn’t quite a match to the one in the other image. Ah well. The monkey on this coat-of-arms page is shooting at something far more prosaic, a butterfly that’s flitting over a fishermonkey’s head:

So if you predicted butterfly before, go ahead and give yourself an extra 20 points. Those who predicted monkeybutt, you can keep your points, as it’d be unfair to dock you now.] But off to the left?

What are they up to? Well… you got me. No idea. Comparing shoe sizes?***** Y’know, on the off chance they come upon a hunter’s booby-trapped shoes? Actually, the more I stare at certain details of the picture, the more I worry that the joke I just made in that last footnote****** might actually be true. I’m not enlarging anything,******* but it is curious how all the monkeys have little pouches strategically placed to cover their naughty dangly bits, except for the seated monkey, who may just be having a little wardrobe malfunction.

Goddamn it. Just when you think you’ve managed to write a proper scholarly post about coats of arms and the second hand manuscript market, someone goes slipping gratuitous monkey smut in while you’re not looking. I’m just going to pretend that’s a bit of foliate border, and I think you all should as well.********

  1. * Time travel, bitches. Get used to it. []
  2. ** Otherwise, how rude. []
  3. *** Not you, the one who was just a noble. Some other you reading this. []
  4. **** I theorize the damage was caused by generations of monocles dropping from the suddenly widened eyes of upper crust leather patches and tweed types all “My word, a man being ridden by a horse?! Such ribald debauchery! I daresay!” []
  5. ***** Does what they say about men apply to monkeys, too? Y’know, big shoes mean big… <insert word that isn’t penis because you were totally expecting a penis joke here>. []
  6. ****** And I know you read all the footnotes as you go, so it’s kosher for me to reference them in the main text. That sort of attention to detail is why I let you be the up and coming middle class guy in the example earlier. []
  7. ******* I’ve got enough dubious claims to fame to add ‘monkey genitalia retoucher’ to my resume now. []
  8. ******** Lest I make you be someone entirely unsavory in my next second-person example. Like monkey genitalia retouchers, for instance. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kornelis

    I can only presume the final image is a parody of the ceremony of swearing fealty to a liege lord. Monkey images are usually just-wrong parodies of human behaviour, and this seems to fit the picture: in stead of the seated liege covering his vassal’s hands with his own, he puts his foot on that of his vassal. And witnesses are even present to confirm the ceremony.

  • Ariella

    The monkeys are playing Human Quintain.  It was a pushing game.  Here’s an example of the same game being played by humans: http://webcentre.co.nz/kk/vickiimgs/quintaintapestry.jpg  Karen Larsdatter has half a dozen links to images of the game at the bottom of this page: http://larsdatter.com/quintains.htm .

    • http://www.gotmedieval.com Got Medieval

      You’re absolutely right, consarnit. I much preferred the fealty ceremony explanation. But then, putting a parody fealty ceremony right next to your patron’s coat of arms is too obvious a shit taking to have much of a chance of surviving till now.

  • http://www.larsdatter.com/ Karen

    Looks to me like the ape on the right is shooting at a bug.

    (Dittos on the “quintain” game for the apes on the left-hand side, of course, but I see I need to update http://larsdatter.com/quintains.htm a bit; still has some old and/or broken links.)

  • jackd

    I’m curious about the background color on the coat of arms – the field the red lion is on.  The general rule is that a color (red, in this case) is always on a white or yellow background (silver and gold can be substituted for white and yellow).  There are a few, mostly German instances of red things on a black background, but since this guy has a black border, it’s not black.

    Could the artist have used silver foil that tarnished?  Or is there another ink that would have darkened like that.

    Yes, I’ve mucked about with heraldry in the SCA for a long time.

    • Matilda

      That background does look like tarnished silver.  The arms are probably those of Richard, the 13th-century Earl of Cornwall (or one of his descendants).

      Is that a crozier poking out above and below the shield?

  • TLittleut

    I would venture a guess that the foot-comparing monkeys on the left are partaking in some sort of silly parody of some class’s greeting or rituals. Can you tell anything by their hats and cloaks? Perhaps it has something to do with what the family whose coat of arms is on the page was involved in. 

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  • Mellerian

    about the damaged coat of arms (Mazarine 520), it was probably done during the French Revolution; when coats of arms were  considered as signs of old “privileges”, therefore that had to be destroyed, as a sign of the new days coming ! (In France, lots of works, painted, sculpted, suffered from Revolution).
    It happens that a new buyer wanted to have his own coat of arms on his manuscript, but usually these are painted on the old ones. (And i must precise, that during Middle Ages, you did not had to buy a coat of arms, everyone could have his own). 
    …still thanks for your funny blog.

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