Medieval Cartoons, Graffiti and related items

Dame Aoife takes a walk on the medieval wild side this week, with links about the lighter side of scribal arts proving that people in the Middle Ages did have a sense of humor.

Greetings my Faithful Readers!

A couple of years ago my local group visited the medieval manuscripts room at a local University. While there we were astonished to note a doodle in the margin of a manuscript that bore an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Burns (from The Simpsons). A Links List was born!

This week's Links List isn't about Hagar the Horrible. It isn't about Apteryx and Cleopatra. It isn't about Rapunzel Barbie, either. This week we're focusing on doodles, scratchings on stone, drawings-in-the-margin and other Medieval-oid casual sketches. Feel the urge to day dream and doodle? You aren't alone. Read on as we examine the private the inner workings of the medieval mind, expressed on any handy surface....

Oh, and please share this wherever it will find a ready audience...



Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon
Endless Hills

Medieval Cartoon
(Site Excerpt) This cartoon is from 1233. It is a detailed cartoon and it is a real mystery. It was found on an Exchequer Roll. A roll is not a sandwich but a government document recording various payments. This roll listed tax payments made by Jewish people. They were called rolls because that is how they were stored - rolled up. Study the cartoon and find: a castle, pitch forks, scales, a woman, a crown, devils.....

By Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill
(Site Excerpt) My hunch is that the Voynich Manuscript is simply a medieval doodle book. One needn't look to "mental illness or delusion" on the part of the author - merely boredom. A doodle pad also provides a "holistic" interpretation of the manuscript, at least in the sense that the text and images are all equally random, repetitive scribblings. It isn't a "meaningful whole" but it is of a piece.

Medieval Manuscript Marginalia and Proverbs
© Andrew Otwell, 1995
(Site Excerpt) Early work on marginalia, as Randall and Camille point out, consists of little more than an acknowledgement of its existence. Conclusions about the images are uniformly disparaging and dismissive. Randall reminds her readers that the bulk of such studies includes phrases such as "allusions to 'burlesque drawings' and 'grotesque fancies'."[1] Camille notes briefly the comments of the British Museum's Keeper of Manuscripts in 1898, who had written that marginal illustrations were purely ornamental and unconnected with the body of the manuscript. Classical Manuscripts, their marginalia and general reception in the Middle Ages: Bibliography

Recommended Book:
Image on the edge : the margins of medieval art
By:Michael Camille
Type:English : Book : Non-fiction
Publisher:Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1992.

Bolter on Marginalia
(Site Excerpt) The scribes of the ancient world made relatively little use of the margins of papyrus rolls; the invention of the codex allowed for larger and more accessible margins. The margins of a medieval manuscript often belonged to the scholarly reader: they were the reader's space for conducting a dialogue with the text. The margins defined a zone in which the text could extend into the world of the reader.

Medieval Graffiti at New Shoreham
(Site Excerpt) The first will be found at the west end of the original chancel (now the nave) on the respond of the northern series of arches, on the sixth course from the moulded base, and consists of a group of incised figures of men arranged on either side of an animal, with a deeply cut pilgrim's cross surmounting the whole scene. The graffito is about 4 ft. 6 in. from the floor. The second set of graffiti will be found on the same northern series of arches on the second pillar from the east on the second and third courses from the moulded base.

BBC News: Medieval graffiti found in home
(Site Excerpt) The owners of Peartree Farmhouse, in Yoxall, discovered the carvings when they started to redecorate the 14th Century house. The engravings depict medieval knights, birds and arrow heads. Julian Bagg, historic buildings expert, said the markings may have been engraved into the walls to ward off evil spirits.

Detlev Kraack Heraldic traces of later medieval noble travellers. Inscriptions and graffiti of the 14th-16th century
(Site Excerpt) In view of the signs of honour that noble travellers left at the stops along their routes and the considerable and impressive expenditure that accompanied them it seems justified to argue that the noble travellers on their way into the Holy Land or to Santiago de Compostela were often concerned with a lot more than the mere salvation of their souls. It was good practice, for example, to attach one's coat of arms or tablets of wood or sheets of cardboard or paper displaying this coat of arms and its bearer's name to the walls of inns, lodging houses for the seekersofhonour, or even the sacral destinations of the journey. If that was impossible one had one's coat of arms, name and the date of sojourn painted on the wall or even picked up a red chalk, charcoal pen or scratching tool oneself.

Maeshowe's runes - Viking graffiti
(Site Excerpt) The translations I have for Maeshowe's runic inscriptions are detailed below: Ingebjork the fair widow - many a woman has walked stooping in here a very showy person" signed by "Erlingr" "Thorni f*cked. Helgi carved" (the official guidebooks usually tone this inscription down)"Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women" (carved beside a rough drawing of a slavering dog)"This mound was raised before Ragnarr Lothbrocks her sons were brave smooth-hide men though they were"

Bodelian Library University of Oxford Medieval Manuscipts
Browse the images to see several renderings of marginalia such as:
(Boy with 2 birds just sitting in the margins)
(Angel and Fighting man on lower margin)

A plethora of images to search for interesting marginalia

Modern Cartoons with a Medieval Subjects

If you wish to correspond with Aoife directly, please send mail to: mtnlion at ptd dot net.

There's an increasing suspicion

There's an increasing suspicion that the Voynich MS is an intentional hoax. It's too complex to simply be doodles, but there's a recent claim that the language appears consistent with a particular approach, involving a grid of pseudo-syllables and a stencil for choosing from them. It was written up in Wired a few months ago, IIRC.

(My personal pet theory is that the text is all just a hoax, but there's a secret message in the *pictures*. I don't think it's actually true, but it would make a wonderful premise for some DaVinci-code style novel...)