The Child Catcher

Welcome to Vulgaria!
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (UK 1968) is a musical film loosely based on Ian Fleming's children's book Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car. Fleming wrote the book for his son Caspar. Fleming was inspired by an aero-engined racing car built by Count Louis Zborowski in the early 1920s. The car in the 1968 film was built by Ford. It has a three-liter V6 engine, a dashboard plate from a British World War I fighter plane, a hood crafted from polished aluminum, and a boat deck is hand-crafted from cedar.

Chitty is a hybrid creation

Plot. Set in the 1910s, the story opens with a Grand Prix race, in which one of the cars swerves to avoid a dog, loses control, crashes, and catches fire, bringing its racing career to an end. The car ends up in an old garage, where two children, Jeremy and Jemima Potts, have grown fond of it, but are told by a junkman that he intends to buy the car for scrap; to crush it then melt it down to a liquid and have the metal to sell. The two children, who live with their widowed father Caractacus Potts, an eccentric inventor and his equally peculiar parent, implore him to buy the car before the junkman does, but he is unable to, not having the money. While skipping school, they meet Truly Scrumptious, a beautiful upper-class woman with her own motorcar, who brings them home to report their truancy to their father. Truly shows interest in Caractacus' odd inventions, but he is affronted by her attempts to tell him that his children should be in school.

One night, while going over his bizarre inventions, many of which seem to be similar in function and form to modern appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and televisions, Caractacus discovers that one of the sweets he has invented can be played like a flute. He tries to sell the "Toot Sweet" to Truly's father Lord Scrumptious, a major confection manufacturer, but when the factory is overrun by dogs responding to the whistle, he is thrown out. Then he takes his automatic hair-cutting machine to a carnival to raise money, but it goes haywire. He eludes the wrath from his first (and only) customer named Cyril by joining a song-and-dance act, stealing the show and earning enough tips to pay for the car. Potts rebuilds the car, which he nicknames Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the noises its engine makes, and he and the children, accompanied by Truly, go for a picnic on the beach, where Truly becomes very fond of the Potts family and vice versa. Caractacus tells them a story about nasty Baron Bomburst, the tyrant ruler of fictional Vulgaria, who wants to steal Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and keep it all for himself.

Three in one: car, boat, and plane

In the story, the quartet and the car are stranded by high tide, but Chitty suddenly deploys huge flotation devices and they escape inland. The Baron sends two comical spies ashore to capture the car for him, but they briefly capture Lord Scrumptious by accident, and then kidnap Grandpa Potts, mistaking him for the inventor of Chitty. Caractacus, Truly, and the children see him being taken away by airship, and give chase. When they accidentally drive off a cliff, Chitty sprouts wings and propellers and begins to fly. They follow the airship to Vulgaria, where the Baroness Bomburst has ordered the imprisonment of all children, whom she abhors. Grandpa the "inventor" has been ordered by the baron to make another floating car, and is bluffing to avoid being tortured. The Potts party is hidden by the local toymaker, who now works only for the baron.

"There are children here somewhere. I can smell them." ... "I can feel them in my bones." ... "The Baroness will have your teeth for a necklace, and your eyes for earrings." ... "I don't trust a man who makes toys in a land where children are forbidden."

Chitty is discovered and taken to the castle. But while Caractacus and the toymaker go in search of Grandpa and Truly goes in search of food, the children are captured by the Baron's Child Catcher.

"All free today."

The toymaker takes Truly and Caractacus to a grotto far beneath the castle where the townspeople have been hiding their children, and they concoct a scheme to free the children and the village from the baron. The toymaker sneaks them into the castle disguised as life-size dolls, gifts for the baron's birthday. Caractacus snares the Baron and the town's children swarm into the banquet hall overcoming the baron's palace guards and guests. In the ensuing chaos, the baron, baroness, and Child Catcher are all captured. The family is freed and fly back with Truly to England. Jeremy and Jemima finish the story themselves: "And Daddy and Truly were married!" which Truly seems to find appealing, but Caractacus is evasive, believing that the class distance between them is too great. When they arrive home, Caractacus is surprised to find his father and Lord Scrumptious (who it turns out are old army friends) playing a lively game of soldiers. Scrumptious surprises him further with an offer to buy the Toot Sweet as a canine confection and, realising that he is soon to become wealthy, rushes off to propose to Truly. As they drive off together in Chitty, the car takes to the air again, this time without wings.

Robert Helpmann as Child Catcher: gaily adorned yet very creepy.


"The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility." -Francis Bacon (1909-1992).

The "Come along, kiddie-winkies!" effect in the 21st century: Feeding the birds in Vulgaria


Mariano Akerman, Flying Being, digital image, 2006. After Samuel Bak, Fugue, oil, 1972.


Resourceful Jahsonic

Among the chief contributors of the Imaginary, Jahsonic (Jan Geerinck) is undoubtedly one of the most resourceful and finest online. Here you will find some extraordinary pearls from his astonishingly rich and stimulating collections.

Robert Swain Gifford, Roc´s Egg, 1868

To built up the collections, Jahsonic keeps in mind Walter Benjamin's method of literary montage, which is associated with another useful notion, inasmuch as "The rhizome allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation" (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Capitalisme et Schizofrénie, 1980, vol. 2: "Mille Plateaux").

Jan Willem Geerinck (Belgium, 1965-) is the author of De geschiedenis van de erotiek: van holbewoner tot Markis de Sade (The History of Erotica, from Cavemen to Marquis de Sade), Van Halewyck, 2011. Reproduced on the right, the biggest image is A Witch Riding on a Phallus, a 1732 etching after a now-lost 1530s design by Francesco Mazzola, better-known as Il Parmigianino (1503-1540).

The perceived contradiction between high and low culture is Jahsonic's recurring theme, who believes that both high culture and low culture are minority tastes and as such can be described as subcultures which influence mainstream culture. Importantly, "both high and low culture have produced masterpieces and works of mediocrity" (Jahsonic, 2006).

After Parmigianino, The Witches' Sabbat, c. 1530. "Which follows which?," you ask? Let's answer: While witch follows witch, the artistic Phallus detatus becomes a common Phallus domesticus.

Exploring boundaries, bridges and intersections

Greek sculpture: Soter Kosmoi, bronze bust. Phallic worship idol (Otto Augustus, Wall’s Sex and Sex Worship, fig. 157: "The god Priapus as a cock, from a Greek temple"). Vatican Museum

Gothic sculpture, Gastrocephalic creature, Chartres cathedral

Michael Pacher, St Wolfgang and the Devil, oil on panel, c. 1483. Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Hieronymus Bosch, Hell detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, 1500. Museo del Prado, Madrid

Cornelis Bos, Grotesque, 1546. Netherlandish engraving, 243 x 179 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Lucas Cranach, "Wider das Papsttum zu Rom, vom Teufel" (Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil), antipapal pamphlet by Martin Luther, 1545

Joos de Momper, Anthropomorphic Landscape, oil, early 17th century

Wenceslaus Hollar, "The Belly and the Members," The Fables of Aesop (by John Ogilby), print 47, 1673-75

Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-92), "Sakuzozu" (Phallus-Monk), Japanese print from the Hayaku Bobo Gatari series

Kunisada or Toyokumi, The Hell of Great Heat, Japanese print, 1785. Center shows female genitalia devouring a former lover.

Eugène le Poitevin, Les Diableries Érotiques: Eros riding Phallus, France, 1830s

Ibid., Lizard-Phallus

John Ruskin, "Noble and Ignoble Grotesque," interpretative comparison 19th century

Odilon Redon, The Shapeless Polyp Floated along the Bank, a Sort of Hideous, Smiling Cyclops, charcoal, 1883

Cabaret de L'Enfer, Paris, 1910. Photo by Eugène Atget. Entrance recalls the Mouth of Hell in Western iconography, while facade ornaments are intended to look as those in European artificial grottoes. However, the hungry oriental face is no doubt inspired in Asian imagery.

Choi Xoo Ang (Korean, 1975- ), Flying Hands, sculpture

Paul Rumsey, Two Bodyheads, 2003

A Vocabulary of Culture, 1996-2007. "A website exploring the boundaries, bridges and intersections of culture. The term vocabulary in the title of the website refers to all words on all of the pages (they function as a controlled vocabulary or a taxonomy); but more particularly to a vocabulary which is dear to me: the vocabulary of the non-mainstream. The title itself is inspired by Raymond Williams's 1976 Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, in which he explores the sometimes hidden meanings of words and terms in the discourse on culture." The site is a testament to the value of serendipity: finding something unexpected and useful while searching for something else entirely.
Blog, 2006-9
Art and Popular Culture, 2007-14
Microblog, 2012

Karel Thole (1914-2000), Illustration of the German pulp fiction novel "Das Monster"

Living in the Margins
Images of Witches
Circumcision of Jesus including the Commons Image Collection


Grotesco Online

Louis-Léop​old Boilly (1761-1845​), Reunión de 35 cabezas expresivas (Reunión de trente-cinq têtes d'expression), 1825. MUba Eugène Leroy, Musée des Beaux-Arts​, Tourcoing


Málaga, Museo Picasso, El factor grotesco, 2012-13.

¿Qué es lo grotesco en el arte? Es lo que quien vista el Museo Picasso de Málaga se pregunta ante la exposición temporal compuesta por 270 obras de 74 artistas entre los que figuran Leonardo da Vinci, Francisco Goya, James Ensor y Paul Klee. La muestra, afirma José Lebrero, "remite a cuestiones globales o universales como la piedad, la risa, el llanto, la ternura, el espanto, el rechazo o el abrazo ante lo que somos."
Para responder a la pregunta de qué es lo grotesco, la exposición "pretende enseñar y volver visibles algunos argumentos que hasta ahora no se habían visto, dando voz estética a autores y obras que hasta ahora no la tenían". Además, "por primera vez se yuxtaponen y relacionan obras específicas de artistas diversos que, según ciertas interpretaciones canónicas, son aparentemente inasociables".
Así, están Leonardo da Vinci con George Grosz, Paul Klee con Francis Bacon, René Magritte con Louise Bourgeois, y Roy Lichtenstein con Pablo Picasso.
Según Lebrero se trata de una "sintética historia de Europa con casos ejemplares", centrada en la última mitad del milenio anterior, desde que en Roma se descubría la Domus Aurea, con los recintos de Nerón hasta entonces cerrados, y que inspiraron a Rafael en sus decoraciones de las estancias vaticanas.
La exposición se organiza a partir de cuatro espacios. El primero evoca la grotta, la gruta artificial de donde proviene el término grotesco, abarcando desde la Domus Aurea hasta los Caprichos y Disparates de Goya. El segundo espacio está dedicado a las artes gráficas del siglo XVIII inglés y el XIX francés. El tercer apartado está dedicado a las vanguardias e incluye obras del simbolismo, dadá y surrealismo, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon y Philip Guston. El cuarto espacio permite comprobar que en el arte contemporáneo lo grotesco se mantiene siempre vigente y parece gozar de una gran salud.

Xilografía con ser de raza monstruosa que habitaba en África e India (Hartmann Schedel, Liber chronicaru​m, 1493).

José Lebrero mantiene que lo grotesco va más allá del arte de la exageración. Su concepto expositivo reúne tres versiones de un mismo género. La más antigua tiene su origen en los finales del siglo XV y consiste en mostrar formas imaginarias y divertidas con elementos vegetales y seres imaginarios, tal como se daban en los aposentos de Nerón en la Domus Aurea. Vienen después las máscaras del carnaval,el travestismo y la confusión entre la verdad y la mentira que utilizaron desde Bruegel el Viejo hasta los simbolistas o los surrealistas. En el siglo XX, la crítica social y moral se muestra despiadada con el sujeto retratado.

Leonardo da Vinci, Dos perfiles grotescos enfrentados, pluma, 1485-90
Royal Collection, Windsor

Enea Vico interpretado por Tomaso Barlacchi, Panel ornamental grutesco, grabado, 1541. British Museum, Londres

Juan Sánchez Cotán, Brígida del Río, la Barbuda de Peñaranda, óleo, 1590
Prado, Madrid

James Ensor, Máscaras contemplando una tortuga, óleo, 1894

Francis Bacon, Estudio para un retrato (Papa), 1957


Kayser, Wolfgang. Lo grotesco: su realización en pintura y literatura. El título original del libro de Kayser es Das Grotesk: seine Gestaltungen im Malerei und Dichtung (1957). Una traducción correcta del término alemán Gestaltungen es "configuraciones." En efecto: Kayser se ocupa de un número considerable de manifestaciones o expresiones de lo Grotesco, es decir, de sus configuraciones en el arte y la literatura. Ante lo Grotesco, explica Kayser, "El terror nos asalta con rigor precisamente porque se trata de nuestro propio mundo, de manera que la confianza que depositábamos en él no resulta ser más que una apariencia. Simultáneamente tenemos la sensación de que no podríamos vivir en ese mundo de repente transformado. No se corresponde con lo grotesco el miedo a la muerte, sino el pánico ante la vida. Y a la estructura de lo grotesco pertenece la abolición de todas las categorías en que fundamos nuestra orientación en el mundo. Desde la ornamentación renacentista hemos asistido a la plasmación de procesos perdurables de disolución: la mezcla de ámbitos y reinos bien distinguidos por nuestra percepción, la supresión de lo estático, la pérdida de identidad, la distorsión de las proporciones «naturales», etc. Y en la actualidad se han sumado a aquellas otros procesos más de disolución: la anulación de la categoría de cosa, la destrucción del concepto de personalidad, el derribo de nuestro concepto de tiempo histórico."

Bajtin, Mijail. La cultura popular en la Edad Media y en el Renacimiento: el contexto de Francois Rabelais, México: Alianza Editorial, 1987.

Otto Dix, Bebé recién nacido, óleo, 1927


Lara, Jessica Huerta. Las estrategias estéticas de lo grotesco aplicadas aldiseño, tesis para maestría, Xochimilco: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, 2007.


Thomas Wright, Histoire de la caricature et du grotesque dans la littérature et dans l'art, París: A. Delahays, 1875 [+]

Grotesque, Dictionnaire critique de la Nouvelle Langue Française, 8.7.2008

Antiochus, L'art grotesque, 22.4.2012

Philippe Morel, Les grotesques: les figures de l'imaginaire dans la peinture italienne de la fin de la Renaissance, Flammarion, 2001. "Le mot grotesque devient au XVIIe siècle un qualificatif essentiellement négatif, synonyme de bizarre, de ridicule ou d'extravagant. Mais il fut d'abord employé dès le début du siècle précédent pour désigner des peintures murales largement inspirées des fresques et des reliefs antiques, auxquels s'ajoutaient parfois des réminiscences des marginalia gothiques. Ce genre décoratif connut un immense succès tout au long du XVIe siècle, d'abord en Italie, puis un peu partout en Europe, en s'étendant à la sculpture, à la gravure et à bien d'autres techniques.
Partant de motifs et de schémas essentiellement antiquisants, le langage des grotesques s'est progressivement détaché de cette référence figurative en s'inspirant de diverses matrices culturelles contemporaines. C'est donc l'analyse de ces voisinages déterminants et de ces relations constitutives qui permet de rendre compte du fonctionnement multiple de ce langage apparemment incohérent, et d'en dégager la spécificité historique et la densi té culturelle : le rapport à la tradition hiéroglyphique, au collectionnisme éclectique et à l'esthétique de l'abondance, la littérature burlesque, la logique épistémique des hybrides ou la construction rhétorique et paradoxale des compositions apportent autant d'éclairages décisifs sur les nombreux décors pris en considération.
Les grotesques apparaissent de la sorte comme une expression tout à fait emblématique de la culture maniériste et c'est à ce titre qu'elles sont devenues la cible privilégiée des critiques post-tridentines."

Elisheva Rosen, Grotesque, modernité, Romantisme, Vol. 21, N° 74, 1991, pp. 23-28.

Cécile Brochard, Le grotesque moderne, Acta, 7.2.2011

Odile Benyahia-Kouider, L'art du grotesque, Libération, 22.4.2003

Éric Valentin, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen: le grotesque contre le sacré, Gallimard, 1991. "Avec leurs objets surdimensionnés, Claes Oldenburg et Coosje van Brugenn dressent les figures sidérantes d'un monde hors de ses gonds, lié à une inversion et à une confusion des valeurs et se livrent à une critique de la technocratie et du mercantilisme. [...] Les antimonuments burlesques, néodadaïstes et corrosifs de Claes Oldenburg et de Coosje van Bruggen exploitent les vertus curatives du comique, contre la sanctification de la raison, de l'ordre et de la morale qui s'est imposée dans l'histoire de l'art abstrait, l'architecture moderniste et l'art des ingénieurs."

Claes Oldenburg y Coosje van Bruggen, Helado caído (Dropped Cone), 2001. Neumarkt Galerie, Colonia, Alemania

Jae-Geol Lee, Le grotesque dans l'art contemporain, sinópsis de tesis, París: Sorbonne, Centre André Chastel, iniciada en 2005.


Zdzisław Beksiński

Zdzisław Beksiński, Untitled, 1984
acrylic on beaver board, 98.5 × 101 cm
Piotr Dmochowski Gallery, Poland

Zdzisław Beksiński
Dmochowski Gallery
Dark Art
Viajes con mi tía
El nostromo peregrino


True Monsters

Two excerpts, quoted both from Joe Davies, "Monsters, Maps, Signals and Codes," Biomediale: Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture, ed. Dmitry Bulatov, Kaliningrad: The National Centre for Contemporary Art and The National Publishing House, 2004.

Transanimation in the History of Art. Accounts of divinely assisted or magically conjured interconversion or "transanimation" of all forms of animate and inanimate matter are important elements in Greco-Roman mythology and Judeo-Christian traditions. Both figure prominantly in the archives of human facination with the qualities of function and vitality that distinguish life and death.
The Greeks and Romans had Midas, Medusa, Arachne, Srynx, Daphne, and scores of other characters morphing or, "transanimating" back and forth from flesh and blood into gold, stone, river reeds, spiders, trees and many other exotic forms.

Aliens and Monsters. Perhaps the most profound example of "transanimation" is the serious scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence because we hope that by merely asking a question, we can bring the whole universe to life. Here [...] human imagination has been moved to repeat earlier themes. Popular hysteria about alien abductions are replete with sexual complications. There is both fear and anticipation.
An intriquing aspect of the transanimation stories is that they are almost always about horrible monsters that have romantic or sexual interactions with human beings. Yet, just as classical monstrosities all correspond to what we now understand to be examples of clinical pathology, it turns out that even our own modern monsters are inevitably, versions of ourselves. Perhaps this might help to explain why Star Trek's "Captain Kirk" had romantic liasons wth several non human species.
Composite, part human/part animal figures of the ancient Egyptian pantheon, the minotuar of Crete and the centuars of Greece and Rome all seem to have anticipated the spectre of inter-species monstrosity that haunts the anti-genetics lobby and activists concerned with genetically modified food. Yet, these chimeric "monsters" too have long existed in many, perhaps, unsuspected forms. Homo sapiens share many essential genes with the rest of terrestrial biology. We human beings, no matter how unique and gifted we imagine ourselves to be, have an approximate 70% genetic homology with tomatoes. Homo sapiens' genetic homology with chimpanzees and the great apes is closer to 99%.
It is somehow easy to overlook the fact that aliens and monsters have already completely overrun the planet. They are are numerous, ubiquitous and incognito and most of them have something to do with food.
Human beings have, since the beginning of agriculture, imparted their genetic preferences into the genomes of many different species. Essentailly all species related to agriculture have been genetically manipulated. Let's again take the tomato as an example, one that has been obtained say, at an "organic," "natural foods" grocery store. It has never been directly treated with chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Yet even this purest of tomatoes is a "monster" by dictionary definition (cite definition here?). Tomatoes as we know them have many more copies of their chromosomes than their raisin-sized ancestor's normal compliment. The extra DNA in today's tomatoes means that many genes are translated over and over again which has had the effect of giantizing the original fruit. So, once upon a time, we made giant tomatoes. It makes little difference whether or not this modification of tomatoes was carried out with conventional horticultural techniques, use of mutagenic agents, or the recombinant techniques of molecular biology. The result is the same. Tomatoes are "monsters." Most people just don't know.
Even a rose is a Frankenstein in a sense, because it is comprised of pieces and parts of the genomic makeup of many other subspecies of roses. The same is true for essentially all ornamental plants and many other non-food organisms modified by Homo sapiens for their aesthetically pleasing qualities or by-products.

George Gessert
Hybrid 703. Pacific Iris
orchid, 1992
Image courtesy of Wet Art Gallery

Over time, Human beings have not only been the creators of monstrosity, they have become the phages and/or consumers of the monstrosities they created. In so doing, they have indirectly modified themselves. If modern Homo sapiens had to survive on the ancestors of species that make up its current food supply, genetic "retrofits" would be called for. We would have to resupply ourselves with the phenotypes of earlier homonids simply to manage the collection and digestion of those materials.
It seems that not only have we been confused about who the monsters are, we expect everybody else (aliens) to be just as confused as we are.

[If "Nature copies Art" (Oscar Wilde),
the Look at You! syndrom will come as no surprise].

For a further discussion
Valery Podoroga: René Descartes and Ars chimaera
Sven Druehl: Chimaera Phylogeny


The Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux

Jean Pucelle
The Book of Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux (Livre d'heures)
Paris, 1324–28
Grisaille, tempera and ink on parchment, 8.9 x 6.2 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, 54.1.2

This exquisite and lavishly illustrated prayer book (Book of Hours) was created between 1324 and 1328 for Jeanne d'Évreux, queen of France, by the celebrated Parisian illuminator Jean Pucelle (active ca. 1320–34) and was intended for use by the queen during private prayer throughout the course of the day.[1]

The 209 folios of The Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux include twenty-five full-page paintings with paired images from the Infancy and Passion of Christ and scenes of the life of Saint Louis. The figures are rendered in delicate grisaille (shades of gray) that imparts an amazingly sculptural quality, and the images are accented with rich reds and blues and with touches of orange and yellow, pink, lilac, and turquoise. In the margins, close to seven hundred illustrations depict the bishops, beggars, street dancers, maidens, and musicians that peopled the streets of medieval Paris, as well as apes, rabbits, dogs, and creatures of sheer fantasy. All are brought to life by the keen observation, accomplished draftsmanship, and consummate imagination of the artist.[2]

The illustrated book contains not even a hint of gold, and color appears in it only in a limited way. Its figures, rather, are predominately rendered in grisaille and set within monochrome, penwork frames, with color selectively employed to provide accents or as a backdrop against which figures are placed. Its drawing-like effects made much of an artist’s skills, highlighting his ability to create mesmerizing, illusionistic effects.[3]

Many secular ivories remind us of another another distinctive northern element evident in the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux. Scenes of courtly elegance like the ones showing the chess game are enframed by fanciful hybrid creatures. The monsters in the ivory may be compared to marginal details of the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux like the monster in the bas-de-page on folio 160. The frame of the mirror can also be compared to some initials. The marginal world of the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux is one of the most remarkable examples of the medieval fascination with drolleries and grotesques. The marginal figures turn the courtly world upside down and full of antitheses. In the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux the dominant courtly refinement of the nobility is juxtaposed in the margins with the bawdy carnality of the lower classes. In this marginal world, the natural order and its clear divisions tend to disappear. Categories such as human, animal, vegetable, and mineral are deliberately mixed in the fabulous creatures in the margins.[4]

Bernard of Claivaux, Apologia to William, Abbot of St.-Thierry, 1125: "I will overlook the immense heights of the places of prayer, their immoderate lengths, their superfluous widths, the costly refinements, and painstaking representations which deflect the attention while they are in them of those who pray and thus hinder their devotion."[5] Notably, in the very same letter, Bernard aptly asks: "which is the point of those beautiful deformities and deformed beauties?" Gombrich argues that the point is that there is no point. Vandergriff, however, may understand them as typical expressions of the Gothic era materialism. Significantly, in those days even medieval grotesqueries became most abundant.

1. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, Metropolitan Museum of New York, 2000-.
2. Ibid.
3. Pen and Parchment
4. Allen Farbrer: Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux
5. Conrad Rudolph, Things of Greater Importance: Bernard of Clairvaux's Apologia and the Medieval Attitude toward Art, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

Online Resources
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY: Collection Entry and Heilbrunn Timeline
Allen Farbrer: Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux
Misty Amanda Vandergriff: Gothic Materialism, 2004
Wikimedia Commons: The Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux

Additional exploration topics: Cryptozoology, Old Books and Manuscripts, GrotesqueOrnaments, Engravings


Medieval Grotesqueries

A smiling being. Detail from ivory carving (mirror case), Paris, c. 1300

Gothic Games: Surrounded by Grotesquen​ess

The game of chess represented both love and war in the Middle Ages and the contest is mentioned in many of the romances of the period. It appears on caskets, combs, plaques and mirror covers throughout the fourteenth century in both France and Germany, and the finest examples appear to come from the same Paris atelier, perhaps from the hand of the same carver.[1]

Chess Game, Gothic ivory carving (mirror case, back side), Paris, c. 1300. Musée du Louvre, Paris

The mirror case depicting a chess game in the Louvre is the perfect quintessence of French courtly art around 1300. The composition is based on a chessboard and the interplay of the hands of three figures pointing to the chessmen. The scene is set under a tent with raised curtains to reveal a seated young man, legs crossed to symbolise of power, gripping the supporting post of the tent with one hand and picking one of the chess pieces with the other. Opposite him is a young woman wearing a hennin under her veil, the high cone-shaped headdress so much decried by preachers in the Middle Ages.
She is pointing to a chess piece with her finger and holding another two in her other hand, perhaps with the intention of cheating. The servant behind her, holding a crown, is suggesting a strategy. A pageboy stands behind the young man, a falcon in his fist. Four dragons frame this carefully crafted object, with its minute faces, the fine lines of the open eyes and the soft drapery.
It may be a representation of the game played by members of the aristocracy, many of whom were the patrons of ivory carvers. Unlike the game of dice, the symbol of brutish debauchery, chess represents courtly love governed by precise rules. However, as indicated by the crown held by the servant (an allusion to the success that may crown the hero's hopes is also an omen of the impending "dethroning" of the lover), it is definitely not a symbol of platonic love.

Michael Camille in reference to the mirror back in the Louvre indicates the sexually suggestive elements of the mise-en-scène: "That courtly couples were constrained by a different set of moves, which made love into a game, can be seen in an ivory mirror case representing a couple playing chess. Even when a couple are shown at the second stage of love and not physically touching as here, there are hints that the third, fourth and fifth stages are quickly approaching. This mirror is an elaborate allegory of desire in which the man is about to "check" his mate as he crosses one leg elegantly over the other in expectation and grasps the central tent pole like a phallic lance. This thrusting imagery continues in the presentation of the lady, whose body has literally been gouged out of the creamy ivory in a series of swaying Gothic folds, emphasizing her penetrability. Even the parted curtains that frame the whole intimate scene are … a well-understood sign, not only of the curtains around a bed, but also the anatomical opening of the woman’s body, which cannot be represented as such… Chess was the perfect allegorical device because it articulated the playful tension and the often violent conflict inherent in the strategies of seduction that formed the medieval art of love."[2]

Lovers playing Chess, Gothic ivory carving (on mirror case), Paris, c. 1300-25. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Courtly couples were constrained by a different set of moves, which made love into a game. They can be seen in this ivory mirror case representing a couple playing chess. In this elaborate allegory of desire the man is about to "check" his mate as he crosses one leg elegantly over the other in expectation while grasping the central tent pole like a phallic lance. This thrusting imagery continues in the presentation of the lady, emphasising her sexuality through the curves of her clothes. The woman conceils two chess pieces behind her back, as sign that she is conceiving him. All happens behind the parted curtains that give a voyeur look into the scene.

"Latrunculi novi ludius auxilium non includit. Taurus excrementum est" (The new chess set does not include a player aid. It is bullshit). Text detail from The Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux, prayer book [!], 1324-28.

According to R.H. Randall, "More mirror cases have survived than any other form of secular ivory. They are thin discs carved on the face with scenes of lovers, the Attack on the Castle of Love, or other subjects, while the back was so designed that a polished metal disc could be inserted to serve as a mirror. The ivory plaque was squared off for ease of handling and stability when set on a shelf by four corner terminals, each in the form of a small, long-eared biped monster with a long tail. The creature was in standard use by mirror makers, though an occasional example has human bipeds or lions."[3]

Siege of the Castle of Love, Gothic ivory carving (on mirror case), Paris, c. 1325-50

Historiated adj. Adorned with the figures of humans or animals or with foliage, often for narrative purposes. Used of initial letters in manuscripts and of the capitals of columns.

Grotesque initial encircling Ecclesia et Synagoga, from a thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript.

'Jousting Tournament'´- Ecclesia versus Synagoga, wood carving, 1400-1410. Cathedral of Erfurt, Germany.

A joust is a fight between mounted knights wearing armor and using lances, often as part of a tournament. The primary aim is to strike the opponent with the lance while riding towards him at high speed, if possible breaking the lance on the opponent's shield or armour, or unhorsing him. Jousting was a favorite form of entertainment during the Middle Ages. Jousting contests took place at Medieval tournaments which provided a venue for knights to practise various forma of combat to the delight, and for the amusement, of crowds of onlookers. The tournaments kept the knight in excellent condition for the role he would need to play during medieval warfare - skill with weapons and supreme strength and fitness were necessary to knights of the Middle Ages.[4]

Drollerie: grotesque jousting tournament (right below The Arrest of Christ), bas-de-page from Jean Pucelle, Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux, prayer book, 1324-28, fol. 15v. New York, Metropolit​an Museum of Art, The Cloisters, Acc. No. 54.1.2

Carnivalesque Marginalia

Initial "D" with hybrids, Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux, prayer book, 1324-28, fol. 166. Cloisters of New York City

Ibid., fol. 160

The Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin has emphasized the importance of what he refers to as the carnivalesque imagination in medieval culture which was opposed to the official order of feasts of the church: "The men of the Middle Ages participated in two lives: the official and the carnival life. Two aspects of the world, the serious and the laughing aspect, co-existed in their consciousness. The co-existence was strikingly reflected in thirteenth and fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts [...]. Here we find on the same page strictly pious illustrations [...] as well as free designs not connected with the story. The free designs represent chimeras (fantastic forms combining human, animal, and vegetable elements), comic devils, jugglers performing acrobatic tricks, masquereade figures, and parodical scenes--that is, purely grotesque carnivalesque themes. All these pictures are shown on the same page, which like medieval man's consciousness contains both aspects of life and the world. Not only miniatures but the decorations of medieval churches, as well as religious sculpture, present a similar coexistence of the pious and the grotesque. [...] However, in medieval art a strict dividing line is drawn between the pious and the grotesque; they exist side by side but never merge."[5]

Ibid., The Flagellation and The Nativity coexist with eye-catching drolleries

The world of the carnival and grotesque was an inversion of the world of official religion. In having the drunken whore play the Virgin and the fool play the king, the carnivalesque did not deny the dominant culture, but through its inversions, it validates the official world. What we see in the margins of the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux recall the gargoyles of the Gothic cathedrals and anticipate the imagery of Rabelais and Brueghel.[6]

Ibid., bas-de-page

Notes and references
1. Victoria and Albert Museum, London: Playing Chess
2. Ibid.
3. Richard H. Randall Jr., Images In Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age, 1997, 63-79.
4. Middle Ages: Jousting; also Wikipedia
5. Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky, 1984, p. 96.
6. Farberas, State University of New York: Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux

Additional links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
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