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 Knights V Snails!

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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 14:16

Well that arrow looks decidedly phallic to me, and if the hare is symbolic of fertility......

The woman isn't trying to slay lust at all, rather saying bring it on. Smile

Edit. And the poor old hare looks terrified affraid
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 14:41

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 15:23

@Islanddawn wrote:


Edit. And the poor old hare looks terrified.

I think he looks like Benny Hill.

But let us be serious again - well sort of serious, because I'm going to give a Wiki reference:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbits_and_hares_in_art


As a symbol of fertility, white rabbits appear on a wing of the high altar in Freiburg Minster. They are playing at the feet of two pregnant women, Mary and Elizabeth. Martin Schongauer's engraving Jesus after the Temptation (1470) with nine (three times three) rabbits at the feet of Jesus Christ can seen as a sign of exuberant vitality. In contrast, the tiny squashed rabbits at the base of the columns in Jan van Eyck's Rolin Madonna symbolize "Lust", as part of a set of references in the painting to all the Seven Deadly Sins.

Here's the van Eyck Madonna, but I can't for the life of me spot the squashed rabbits: they must be very tiny indeed. It's a superb picture.

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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 15:39

The poor wee rabbits are peeking out from below the left hand column. You can see their little faces here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Virgin_with_Chancellor_Rolin-Detail.jpg

To return to the snail, I see that some suggest that it's also a symbol of rumpy-pumpy because he's, quite literally, horny.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 15:44

You need the eyes of a hawk alright ... the poor bastards have been squashed by the pillar.

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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 16:31

@ferval wrote:


To return to the snail, I see that some suggest that it's also a symbol of rumpy-pumpy because he's, quite literally, horny.
Certainly makes sense. Especially as the snail was chosen to adorn the above book of love songs.

And in the context of the depictions of knights in eternal battle with snails, perhaps it is meant to symbolise purity of mind and/or body?
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 16:58

The funny looking arrow is apparently the approved tool for hare hunting, the end being a massive lump of lead designed to stun the animal without piercing the skin.
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 17:54

@ferval wrote:

To return to the snail, I see that some suggest that it's also a symbol of rumpy-pumpy because he's, quite literally, horny.
Well yes indeed, but remember that the symbol of the horns also denotes the cuckold ...  so one then has to ask: who is actually getting the rumpy-pumpy?

I wonder, re the lady using a blunted arrow, as well as it being the approved way of shooting "small game" ie game suitable for ladies to shoot at ... but is it also symbolically to show that she isn't a bunny killer and that she does not have blood/death on her hands. ...  ie she is innocent, unstained, pure etc.

OK, enough inter-twined symbolism.

Although of course these hare/snail/rabbit/knight  images may indeed have originally been intended to operate at many subtle and over-lying levels of meaning. Why do they have to "mean" just one thing? Cannot they represent many interweaving ideas (which would have been understood by the original readership)  .... the inevitability of death, death defeated by resurrection, the desperation of love, true love v lust, humility v pride, etc etc.... ?

Just saying ...
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Tue 29 Oct 2013, 18:16

By the way I've just seen that the Snail v Knight conundrum has also very recently cropped up on the Historum message board.

I don't wish to blow our own trumpet so to speak ... I'll leave that for the ambidextrous mediaeval bottom buglers ... but I do think so far we've given it a  much more considered, more eloquent, more intelligent, shot.

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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 08:31

@Meles meles wrote:


Although of course these hare/snail/rabbit/knight  images may indeed have originally been intended to operate at many subtle and over-lying levels of meaning. Why do they have to "mean" just one thing? Cannot they represent many interweaving ideas (which would have been understood by the original readership)  .... the inevitability of death, death defeated by resurrection, the desperation of love, true love v lust, humility v pride, etc etc.... ?

Just saying ...
I'm sure you are right in "just saying" that, MM.

And, although I accept what nordmann has suggested about this type of artwork being carefully monitored, I still wonder if there were many intelligent and angry monks - men who did have a genuine vocation to help and serve the poor - who enjoyed taking a swipe at the system. Young men who, rather than being just bored, used visual ambiguity subtly to convey all kinds of subversive messages? Chaucer did this with his irony, and Shakespeare - pitted against the Lord Chamberlain - made verbal ambiguity an art form. The clever and the witty have always enjoyed doing this, I think? It's a dangerous but exhilarating game.

So we get here the conventional and quite safe motif of Virtue and Temperance (represented by the knight) valiantly resisting and conquering the evils of Lust and Concupiscence (snail and /or hare); but with the subtext of aristocratic Arrogance and Power attacking the Humble and Meek, the alternative interpretation of the valiant little creatures - both snail and hare -  as symbols of Christ's resurrection fitting in nicely with this, reinforcing the message that one day the mighty will be put down from their seats. The meek shall inherit the earth and all that?

Such a reading, if challenged, could always be denied of course.

PS Who was it who said the meek shall inherit nothing?


Last edited by Temperance on Wed 30 Oct 2013, 08:36; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 08:33

PS I was absolutely horrified by those poor little squashed bunnies. I've gone right off van Eyck.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 09:27

Temp wrote:
So we get here the conventional and quite safe motif of Virtue and Temperance (represented by the knight) valiantly resisting and conquering the evils of Lust and Concupiscence (snail and /or hare); but with the subtext of aristocratic Arrogance and Power attacking the Humble and Meek
But in none of them is he seen conquering, simply "resisting". And in some he actually gets conquered himself. Sorry - I just can't believe in a sub-strata of junior Shakespeares working for monasteries all around Europe over half a millennium using exactly the same subtle allusion that their bosses never copped.
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 09:45

I now feel like one of the squashed bunnies.

Seriously - do we perhaps underestimate the degree of anger felt by those in the Church who had a genuine vocation? Not all priests were corrupt and worldly. The antics of the Mafia type aristocratic elite  - who flourished all over Europe (for centuries) - must have infuriated and sickened many in the monasteries, especially when this lot paraded their blood-lust and greed as Christian virutes.

Just saying, Gov...
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 09:58

Just saying, ma'am, that once we make an assumption regarding the mindset of the artists and infer some uniform character to their intentions, then we are implying that a subversive attitude was commonly and uniformly expressed across several lands and over several centuries in a manner that defeated detection by the various bosses and of which no other verifiable proof has ever been found to support the claim, or at least shed some light on its origins, nature, duration and reason for demise.

Meles meles's appeal to drop the uniformity bit and accept it as meaning different things to different people is equally problematic for me however in that I'm left wondering therefore why such diverse intentions often quite exclusive of each other in meaning and symbolism ended up with almost exactly the same graphic representing them.

I'm sticking with the "puzzling - and by no means solved" stance, myself. But I really wish I knew!

They tell you that great art is best judged from a distance - with Van Eyck you can see why.
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 12:14

@nordmann wrote:
Just saying, ma'am, that once we make an assumption regarding the mindset of the artists and infer some uniform character to their intentions, then we are implying that a subversive attitude was commonly and uniformly expressed across several lands and over several centuries in a manner that defeated detection by the various bosses and of which no other verifiable proof has ever been found to support the claim, or at least shed some light on its origins, nature, duration and reason for demise.

But the "several lands" surely made up one united Christendom which had its own language of signs and symbols which were understood to have various meanings. Weren't many messages - and warnings - conveyed "commonly and uniformly across several lands and over several centuries" through religious art?

Re making assumptions about the mindset of the artists, I still wonder about anger directed against the so-called great and good of the ruling classes. Rebellion was ready to erupt at all times; and didn't the church "bosses" themselves - even the top man in Rome - sometimes have an uneasy relationship with the secular elite? The names of knights such as Reginald FitzUrse, William de Tracey, Hugh de Morville and Richard le Breton - and their ilk - would surely be known - and hated -  in abbeys and monasteries all over Europe.

Perhaps in English monasteries at least a martyred Archbishop of Canterbury was sometimes remembered, and the subtle mockery of the class that had murdered him was occasionally ignored - was perhaps even encouraged?
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 13:08

Temp wrote:
Weren't many messages - and warnings - conveyed "commonly and uniformly across several lands and over several centuries" through religious art?
Indeed they were. Where we come unstuck here though is when we consider which "uniform" meaning to assign to the uniform graphic. As even this short discussion has indicated there are several known meanings attributable to one symbol, as well as several others that can be conjectured with some justification. Meles meles's solution is to say that maybe any or all of these meanings were actually intended - a sort of super in-joke with many layers that people got or didn't get depending on their own sophistication in these matters.

But that still supposes that all these artists were thinking along the same lines, acting as "guardians of the subversion/superjoke" over many hundreds of years pretty much in tune all with each other. And while such things did (and do) go on, it is rare indeed that we have not been left with a single clue, it seems, as to how such a coterie might have been formed, how or if it communicated between its members to keep everyone on board (as they say these days), why they thought the joke necessary to communicate, and how or why it eventually all fizzled out. Was it with a bang - as in due to some tumultuous development within the church - or with a whimper, as in a dumbing down of their intended readership so that in the end no one got the joke in any form any more? We certainly don't, that's for sure.

You know, if the knight occasionally won one of these jousts our task might have been a lot easier. It might probably have allowed us to link the exception in graphic form to what might be deemed an exception in the text of the relevant document and proceed from there to guess at why the graphic was there at all. It's the damned uniformity of failure on the knight's part, or at least visible absence of success, that keeps getting me.


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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 13:15

Nordmann you mentioned a uniformity "across several lands", but is that really so? My reading, admittedly just on-line, suggests that the knight v snail motif appears almost exclusively in documents that were produced in England, Northern France and, to a lesser degree in Flanders. Quite a limited area and culturally relatively uniform. Does this motif occur much outside of that area?

Also does anyone know what sort of documents these pictures ornament. You mentioned one was a commissioned history listing English kings (if I remember aright) but what of the others. Are they all secular or are some to be found say in Bibles, Books of Hours or other religious works?
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 13:26

The examples available to the British Library are all Anglo-Norman and French but according to Lilian Randall the motif was common also within the lands administered by the Holy Roman Empire. The oldest manuscript containing the snail under assault that she cites is from 9th century Kleve (as in Anne of Cleeves), though she also has one from Utrecht and one from Fiesole which apparently originated in Hungary. As to how many have been found where I haven't a clue, so wouldn't dare presume they were more common in one place over another.

The document types vary greatly, though one thing I notice is that they are almost all manuscripts or books intended for private ownership or viewing rather than ones that might have been used by a community, such as an abbey or church. The bulk of them are indeed religious, not secular, though that seems less material than the fact that in private documents there appeared to be a pretty standard convention regarding marginal decoration, period. It was expected to be ornate and was not necessarily tied to the accompanying text regarding what it represented. More "official" or communally referenced works were produced along much stricter lines.


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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 13:42

Thanks for that. Of course Kleve and Utrecht, although part of the Holy Roman Empire, were not very far from Flanders/North France .... Hungary, though is a bit further off. I'd suspected that the documents were mostly privately commissioned Prayer Books, Devotions, Books of Hours etc, but I just couldn't find anything definitive.
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 13:44

Another thing one has to remember is that just because a manuscript is associated with a particular town or community does not at all mean that it was made there. It would be funny if we found out that all these belligerent molluscs dotted around European manuscripts had originated in one little monastic sweatshop somewhere deep in darkest Croydon!
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 14:00

I'm glad you mentioned the types of manuscripts in which the graphic appeared, I'd been wondering about that. That suggests that they were were consumed by the class which was represented by the knight so might it be possible to speculate that it was indeed a stricture against pride or hubris? It has occurred to me that the drawings seem to show some kind of equivalence between the fully armed knight and the little armoured beast and that wee beastie seems to have carried all sorts of fairly negative connotations except, perhaps, dogged persistence.

At a lower level, were any of the marginalia simply of favourite and popular themes which might have been just attractive space fillers for an unimaginative monk?
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 14:04

Yes and yes, I think, are the answers there. (Unless of course they were rhetorical questions in which case you just have to imagine me nodding conscientiously as you speak)

They were also produced under the editorship of an abbot who, traditionally, would also have been of the same class. So their status as an in-joke is rather indisputable, I feel. Just what the bloody joke might have been is what defeats me.

Hubris is a good guess, though I'm still leaning towards slow and inexorable death myself. But that might be just because of my own health issues ...
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 14:23

Druggy monks? This is a novel - and surely rather silly - idea from a poster at the British Library Medieval Blog site. Snail-watching and doodling when on the Datura stramonium?

One more theory is that artists of that time used plant Datura stramonium: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datura_stramonium The plant was used as a remedy, but when taken in larger quantities it acted as a powerful hallucinogen. There were many examples of misusage of this plant through history. It was even used for ritual sacrifices. Images and examples of some poems made under influence of Datura stramonium are given in textbooks at Moscow State University. - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/09/knight-v-snail.html?cid=6a00d8341c464853ef019affa9a492970c#sthash.LybUj31g.OKNA9lC2.dpuf

Why the poster mentions poems at Moscow State University I do not know, unless they include snail references.


EDIT: Are you really poorly, nordmann? Do hope you are not. You've got us all worried now.


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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 14:34

Nothing that a drop of Datura Stramonium won't cure, I imagine.

It really annoys me when anything from antiquity that is even half-way surrealistic or outside the limited ken of the average modern punter is put down to "drugs". For one thing it fails to explain artistic convention stretching over centuries, and for another it blithely ignores the very real consideration - if a drug is involved at all - of whether the art work in question was produced under the direct influence of the drug, under the influence of the after-effects of the drug, under the influence of a milieu which itself was formed through communal use of the drug, or indeed how much it might have been the artist's reaction against any or all of these influences. All these aspects to the creative process are readily demonstrable using examples of art throughout history, and are just as demonstrable today. "Drugs" do not in themselves preclude the artists' own sensibilities, skill or use of imagination. In fact there is ample evidence that drug use is as much an inhibitor of these faculties as an enabler.

Sorry - one of my hobby-horses. Cheap and stupid analysis posing as intelligent comment riles me.
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 14:48

Well, I hope you all noticed that the cheap and stupid contribution wasn't mine - I was just quoting some wretched poster from the British Library site. Embarassed 

I did say I thought the drug idea was rather silly.


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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Wed 30 Oct 2013, 14:53

Sorry. I wasn't gunning for the messenger. It was the pseudo you referred to who was in my sights!
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Thu 31 Oct 2013, 08:56

@nordmann wrote:


They were also produced under the editorship of an abbot who, traditionally, would also have been of the same class. So their status as an in-joke is rather indisputable, I feel. Just what the bloody joke might have been is what defeats me.

Were abbots always "of the same class" as the ruling elite? I know important clergy like bishops were usually, but not always, noblemen, but was that true of all the top men in the abbeys and monasteries? Weren't abbots often elected to their positions by other monks rather than appointed by the monarch? And didn't the pope appoint every archbishop, bishop and archdeacon in Christendom, including the British Isles? The king would ask the pope to favour his nominated candidate of course, but the final decision was always the pope's, I think? The Great Schism must have caused some complications - wasn't there a succession of francophile popes, based at Avignon? Confusingly, from 1378 to the end of the 14th century there were two popes, one at Avignon and the other in Rome, and the English, not surprisingly, recognised only the latter. I wonder how all this affected the hierarchy within the English Church - if it did?

And I'm still thinking about lads from the lower orders "making it" via the Church. Didn't the Church act as a sort of medieval grammar school system - spotting the intelligent, educating them and helping them get to Oxford and Cambridge? Wolsey is the obvious example, but there must have been many, many others who were not from the ruling classes, and whose sympathies perhaps remained with their own kind? Wolsey was certainly never accepted by the noble elite at Henry VIII's court - he was always the "the butcher's cur" (Wolsey's father had been an Ipswich meat-dealer) - no doubt would still have been regarded as an upstart even had he managed to become pope - which he nearly did.  

PS Monks did travel about of course - I'm thinking of the wily monk from Chaucer's Sea Captain's Tale: he was given permission by his abbot to roam where he wanted on the pretext of doing monastic business. And, interestingly, Ian Mortimer, in his Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England writes: "Some travelling is undertaken by other monks to acquire things - including manuscripts to copy for the monastic library - or to acquire news." So there was constant communication, the exchange of ideas - and the sharing of in-jokes perhaps?

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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Thu 31 Oct 2013, 09:28

By the early 16th century the English monastic system had indeed become something of a "leg-up" club running itself almost independently of the state. However between the 9th and 14th centuries they were much more subject to patronage. The conquest's immediate aftermath saw a huge amount of such "appointments" by the new elite of their relatives in monasteries located strategically both within the new geo-political landscape and within the new power structure imposed on society. Abbotships/priorships in the patron-dependent system were anything but electable positions in the modern sense. The position, being an integral part of the local power structure as well as the national power structure in certain instances was too important to be left to mere monks to decide.

By Wolseley's time of course their ability through financial clout to manage internal successions according to self-serving criteria had been well established. But our snails seem to come from before that came about.
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PostSubject: Re: Knights V Snails!   Sun 08 Dec 2013, 16:18

Going back to the humble snail in Medieval marginalia, I've come across this fellow's interesting hypothesis

Part 1
http://my-albion.blogspot.no/2013/09/the-humility-of-snails-part-1-problem.html

Part 2
http://my-albion.blogspot.no/2013/10/the-humility-of-snails-part-2-snail-and.html
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Knights V Snails!

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