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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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