The term “marginalia” refers to the little illustrations or other markings in the margins of illuminated manuscripts. We’ve already seen marginalia in many of the manuscripts we’ve looked at during the past ten days, and in my opinion, marginal illustration is easily the most fascinating aspect of medieval manuscripts. The little people, animals, objects, plants, and other symbols depicted in these images run the gamut from cute to creepy to crass, and their reasons for appearing where they do are frequently unclear.
I’m particularly interested in the grotesque marginalia that seems related to gargoyles and is equally opaque in meaning. The little dragon-like creature shown below is a perfect example. Who or what is he, and what is he doing on the pages of an academic text? In this case, he might have been a later addition – possibly the doodle of a bored student. In other manuscripts, where the marginalia is unquestionably contemporary to the rest of the book, the mystery is even greater.
If you’re interested in marginalia, I would highly recommend visiting medievalbooks.nl, a wonderful website run by manuscript scholar Erik Kwakkel. He does a lot of work on marginalia, doodles, and other such topics; every one of his articles is well worth a read.
Alexandra Kiely, aka A Scholarly Skater, is an art historian based in the northeastern United States. She loves wandering down the dark and dusty corners of art history and wholeheartedly believes in visual art's ability to enrich every person's life.
Her favorite periods of art history are 19th-century American painting and medieval European art and architecture. When she not looking at, reading about, writing about, or teaching art, she's probably ice dancing or reading.
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