Medieval manuscripts blog

05 September 2013

A Medieval Menagerie

Our calendar series for 2012 featured the gorgeous Hours of Joanna the Mad (Add MS 18852), a spectacular Book of Hours that was produced for Joanna of Castile (more frequently, and somewhat unfairly, known as Joanna the Mad) in Bruges between 1496 and 1506.  This Book of Hours was clearly customised for Joanna, who appears in several miniatures (see below); as well as including some unusual texts that were probably chosen by her, the manuscript also contains a stunning programme of illumination. 

Miniature of Joanna of Castile praying, accompanied by John the Evangelist, Hours of Joanna of Castile, Bruges, between 1496 and 1506, Add MS 18852, f. 288

Along with the calendar and other full-page miniatures, nearly every folio of the Hours of Joanna the Mad contains a marginal painting that does not appear to relate directly to the text above.  The marginalia includes paintings of jewels, flowers, and other decorative elements, but the majority of the images are of animals, a wild profusion of life that merits further investigation.  Here are a few of our favourites.

Some of these animals are familiar:

Detail of a squirrel eating a nut, Add MS 18852, f. 88v

Detail of a duck, Add MS 18852, f. 120r

 Detail of a sheep, Add MS 18852, f. 284v

Detail of a grasshopper, Add MS 18852, f. 30r

Detail of a rather downcast dog, Add MS 18852, f. 41v


Some are rather less familiar:

Detail of a a goat-chicken, Add MS 18852, f. 67r

Detail of a hybrid knight in armour, Add MS 18852, f. 117v

Detail of a... well, some kind of animal with a peacock's tail and wings, Add MS 18852, f. 128r

Detail of a bat? or a beaver with wings?, Add MS 18852, f. 150r

Detail of a fish with legs, Add MS 18852, f. 252r


And some are just plain odd:

Detail of a rather elderly be-hatted cherub carrying a flower, Add MS 18852, f. 87r

Detail of a female Green Man (or she-Hulk) looking into a mirror, Add MS 18852, f. 98v

Detail of an unlikely pair of friends, Add MS 18852, f. 108v

Detail of a winged siren (with a fetching hat) grinding colours, Add MS 18852, f. 291r

Detail of a rather disquieting musical instrument (bagpipes?), Add MS 18852, f. 98r

Please have a look at the rest of the Hours of Joanna the Mad, and be sure to let us know your favourites!  As always, you can follow us on Twitter for more updates @BLMedieval.

- Sarah J Biggs


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