From a modern point of view, the creature’s musculature and narrow flanks recalls a lion’s body less than that of leopard or cheetah.
What the fifteenth-century copyist believed it was, I cannot guess, nor in this case whether the discomfort was felt by him or merely by a predecessor though again the 9th-10thC and an environment in the western scriptoria is indicated.
Discomfort there must have been, because this red splash is apotropaic: that is, aimed at neutralising a figure who is believed able to do harm even in this two-dimensional medium.
I want to concentrate less on the figure’s antecedents than on the 9th-11th centuries ~ so the following images are given just to show that the cross-eyed, lamed feline is attested in the pre- and early Hellenistic world. All these figures are from regions where Greek was spoken, and part of that same network and centuries to which the ‘two brothers’ imagery belongs. That network was not the Athenian alliance even if one of these figures is Delian.
The reason for such deep-seated fear – even where no similar creatures lived – is not difficult to understand. The lion with one ruined paw had been an iconic figure in the east from ancient times, chiefly as the steed of the burning sun worshipped in Mesopotamia and Achaemenid territory – territory which before the time of Alexander had included much of Asia minor and intermittently all of Egypt.
Below, the type is illustrated in an Achaemenid seal that was recently recovered from the Black Sea. As you see the beast is given very narrow flanks and the ‘bloodthirsty’ tongue. Its front right paw is damaged in just the same ‘shredded’ way as on the Sicilian coin shown above.
As the ‘aethiop’ sun it often appears in later imagery. Indeed, it is still a conventional motif in works being made even today in parts of northern Africa, though modern Ethiopia, and to as far as the western coast of India. I’ll discuss some of those examples in treating some others among the manuscript’s diagrams.
Within the Hellenistic community as such, it is instead the ‘Dionysian’ leopard – Dionysius himself attributed, like Medusa, origins in the older culture of the Black Sea and its shores.
Here is the motif again, as it had been transformed under Muslim rule, on a thirteenth-century coin. My source labels its origin ‘Thamarra’ and I’m sorry that I’ve not had time to check whether this is meant for Tamara in Georgia or Samarra (there is an s-t shift that occurs in non-classical Arabic). In any case, by the thirteenth century, the effect of Islamic rule had seen the form retained, while removing many of the earlier cultural associations. The coin has been reversed to show how it might look on an impression made in wax or clay.
A myriad versions of Sun-on-Lion can be seen through the centuries in territories anciently under Persian rule or influence. In general, the later the century, the more likely that while it remains a sun-lion, sometimes with paw upraised, it reverts to being considered a natural figure rather than the dreaded agent it had been in earlier times.
Echoes of the type occur in 7thC Scandinavia, as has been noted, but that is scarcely surprising since the route between the Black Sea and Scandinavia is of equal antiquity: part of the amber route and a natural corridor.
The creature drawn on fol.72r-i is not the lion of medieval heraldry, whose extended tongue indicates only authoritative voice and combative character.
With the adoption of Christianity by the eastern (and then the western) Roman empire, the old terrors tended to fade (or to be replaced with different ones, if you prefer).
Five centuries later, as Arab tribesmen espousing the newly-developed Muslim faith swept away much of the older civilizations and their relics, they also removed some of these older cultural attitudes, though habits in iconography are more amenable to a simple re-interpretation of their meaning.
The glass shown below was carved in Egypt, about the eleventh century, its twisted, cross-eyed lion hardly a fearful character, even if its antecedents are clear enough.
That example illustrates, too, the natural adoption of ‘parallel hatching’ in ornament for hard, monochrome media. Such techniques are just as common for ivory, stone, metal (especially gold) and ceramics, including ornament that has been incised, engraved or in the case of ceramics, painted.
This survey has been necessarily brief, but I hope it will be evident that the image on fol. 72r-i does not belong to the later, but to the earlier forms for this type. I would place it to roughly the same time as the style of lotus-motif in the centre of fol.67r-ii, and again the earlier style for the ‘brothers’ imagery. In general these month-emblems show close fidelity to imagery of the Hellenistic period, and far less influence from the eastern limits of the Hellenistic kingdoms and their trade.
Here is another example of the last type, from the Thracian shores of the Black Sea. This ‘brothers of air-and-sea’ imagery was made at the mouth of the Danube – in modern Romania – and is dated to the 4thC BC.
The monotheistic religions came relatively late to that part of the world, and in some cases not until the tenth century and later. Until then, one might suppose, the ancient figures continued to be reverenced, or to be feared as they had been for millennia.
When an object is no longer feared, apotropaic marks of this aversion type are no longer felt necessary; they tend to be used as a community turns away from older practices – a process which is not always rapid but which in this case I think appropriate to the tenth century rather than to the fifteenth.
The tenth century saw the armoured fish appear in Fleury, where it had not been employed in the ninth. And again from a tenth-century work, we have another apotropaic ‘splash’.
I’ll describe this frontispiece next time, as the last of these open posts.
There is no mistaking the single red blob on fol. 72r-i for the representation of whole constellations in other works of the ninth-to-eleventh centuries, whether in Islam or in Rheims. It not simply that there is only one dot on the figure in fol.72r-i, but its whole presentation which points to the earlier period and to cultures in which that ‘aethiop’ creature was feared.
I have already linked to a couple of the typical images in Carolingian copies of the Arataea, and here is a figure from an Islamic astronomical text. This is simply and plainly the constellation of Leo. Its face may be a little twisted, and its eyes a little off-centre, but with nothing like the character of the Delos mosaic, to which I think ours closely akin.
[March 6th., 2015 – header picture re-installed]