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Upside Down Worlds

Medieval people seem to have fantasised a great deal about upside down worlds, perhaps because their real world was so hierarchical. I first encountered these fantasies as a child, at Malvern Priory. In those days you could enter the choir stalls and lift the seats to see the misericords underneath. I particularly liked the scene of rats hanging a cat. Being carved in dark wood, underneath a seat, it doesn't photograph well. It is easier to see what is going on in this nineteenth century engraving. 

Of all the upside down fantasies I have encountered since, this one from the Pontifical of Guillaume Durand is my absolute favourite. It's done with complete seriousness, and the little snail-of-prey is inspired. Pontificals were books of services used by bishops, so this image was originally a private joke between an illustrator and a couple of senior clergymen.

Pontifical of Guillaume Durand, Avignon, before 1390  Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 143, fol. 165r
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Twisted Tales

Writers have been twisting the classics since ancient times. The Romans re-wrote the end of the Iliad to give themselves heroic origins. Chaucer and Shakespeare made their reputations re-working Italian classics. Alternative versions are less common in the plastic arts, presumably because it is harder to tell a clear story with a single image or object. These are two of my favourite examples, both by nineteenth century French artists.

The first is by Gustave Doré who illustrated the myth of Perseus and Andromeda several times in the conventional way. He also made two engravings entitled Perseus Comes Too Late, in which the dragon gets his dinner.

The second is by a pretty obscure neo-classical sculptor called Alphonse Thabard. In 1889 he made a marble sculpture for the town hall of his native Limoges. Called Le Vainqueur (The Victor), it appears to show Ganymede getting the best of serial rapist Zeus, who is on the point of having his neck broken.