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Upside Down Worlds

Medieval people seem to have fantasised a great deal about upside down worlds, presumably because their real world was so hierarchical. I first encountered these fantasies at Malvern Priory. In the 1970s you could still enter the choir stalls and lift the seats to see the misericords underneath. As a small child I particularly enjoyed 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 is my favourite. From the rabbit's lordly expression to the little snail-of-prey, it is perfectly imagined. It appears in the Pontifical of Guillaume Durand, made in the middle of the fourteenth century. Pontificals  were books of services used by bishops, so this image was originally a private joke created by a scribe for the amusement of a senior clergymen.

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

Until about 1900, European artists spent a lot of time illustrating Bible stories and classical myths. Sometimes a patron would control exactly how the story was told. Sometimes artists could add their own interpretation to a story. They might give the characters fancy hats, add some extra symbolism, or even redirect your sympathy. They didn't usually change the basic plot of the story they were illustrating. Indeed tampering with Bible stories would have been extremely dangerous in most of Europe until fairly recently. Occasionally the classics did get reworked, and these are two of my favourite examples, both by nineteenth century French artists. 

Gustave Doré was a prolific engraver, 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.

Alphonse Thabard was a neo-classical sculptor. In his day he seems to have been a successful artist, but he is now largely forgotten. 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. Not before time, I think!