THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

05 June 2014

Medieval Comics Continued (Not for the Squeamish!)

In our first post on medieval comic strips, we promised blood and gore and true romance, and so here it is – but beware!  Of course, Bibles and theological books can contain some really good material, but we have found great examples, too, in works of science, history and allegory. 

A 12th-century Medical Collection - Horrible Science

Perhaps this is stretching the analogy a little as there is no story-line, but here the comic-strip format is used for instruction in medical procedures.  The captions in Latin indicate the affliction that is being treated and the images are certainly gory – ouch!  There probably weren’t very long queues to see these GPs and not many would have made it to a second consultation!

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A  full-page miniature in four compartments of a doctor instructing an assistant on how to prepare medicine; two doctors operating on the head of a patient whose hands are tied behind his back; and two images of a doctor with patients who have cautery points marked on their heads and bodies, 4th quarter of the 12th century, England, N.? or France, N.?, Sloane MS 1975,
f. 91v

 Valerius Maximus: Memorabilia: intrigue and murder in Ancient Rome

Roman history is given comic-book treatment in this Paris manuscript from the 15th century. Here the story of Lucretia, early heroine of the Roman republic, is told in a series of very lifelike images.

Harley MS 4374 f. 211r 25744_2
Sextus Tarquinius threatens Collatinus' wife, Lucretia, with death (left), Lucretia commits suicide before Collatinus, Lucretius, her father, Brutus and Publius Valerius; King Tarquinius Superbus expelled from Rome (left), Lucretius, Collatinus, Brutus and P. Valerius swear to avenge Lucretia (right); P. Valerius Publicola, as Consul, orders his troops to remove the axe symbols of Tarquinius' authority (left), and orders his imposing, fortress-like palace to be demolished (right), France (Paris); between 1473 and c. 1480, Harley MS 4374, f. 211

Roman de la Rose - the original ‘True Romance’

In these images from a Rose manuscript, a range of characters including ladies and monks  have speech banners, each with a courtly phrase or lover’s lament, words that they seem to be saying themselves, like , 'Lonc temps vivre ne pouray' (I cannot live long), 'Ay ay nus ne doit amer' (Ai, nobody must love),  'Ma dame ie vous aim' (My lady, I love you), 'Lasse iai failli a ioie' (Alas, I am without joy).

Royal_ms_19_b_xiii_f004r
Full-page image with two compartments containing 8 figures including men, women, monks and a nun, all pierced by the arrows of love and holding scrolls, France (Paris); c. 1320 - c. 1340, Royal MS 19 B XIII, f. 4r

Taymouth  Hours  - Amoras, a medieval Andy Capp?

In medieval legend, Amoras the knight is the classic anti-hero and hapless husband in one of a series of miracles associated with the Virgin Mary. When in need of money he sells his wife to the Devil in return for a chest of gold, but on  their way to hand her over, they pass a chapel. The wife prays to the Virgin, who takes her place when the Devil appears and drives him away forever. The legend of Amoras is told in the Taymouth Hours in a series of bas-de page images with captions. It extends over the lower margins of 5 pages, with each image representing an episode in the story.

Yates_thompson_ms_13_ff162r-162v
Amoras the knight conversing with the devil, with a caption reading, ‘Cy fist ameroys le che[va]l[e]r omage au deable et a celi p[ro]mist de fere venir a li sa fe[m]me cele iour en un an.’ (recto);  Amoras opening a chest of coins, with a caption reading, ‘Cy le deable dona tresor a ameroise ap[re]s sun omage fere.’ (verso), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, England (London?), Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 162r-162v

Yates_thompson_ms_13_ff163r-163v
Amoras taking his wife to the devil, with a caption reading, ‘Cy chevauche ameroyse et mene sa feme oue li ver le deable.’ (recto); the distraught wife of Amoras asleep before a large image of the Virgin and Child, with a caption reading, ‘Cy en g[ra]nt t[ri]stesce la fe[m]me ameroyse dort devaunt un ymage de n[ost]re dame.’(verso), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, England (London?), Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 163r-163v

Here, in the final episode, the Virgin Mary sees that the devils get what they deserve and Amoras is left looking foolish:

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f164r
Amoras and the Virgin Mary riding, while two devils flee, with a caption reading, ‘Cy n[ost]re dame chevauche o amerois vers le deable en semblaunce de sa fe[m]me li noun sachaunt.’ 2nd quarter of the 14th century, England (London?), Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 164r

We hope you’ve enjoyed our tour through medieval comics, and that you have a chance to experience Comics Unmasked.

- Chantry Westwell

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