Monday 30 December 2013

Hairy men. Wild men.

The image above comes from my previous entry E- manuscripts: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: a Wild Man (woodwose) creeps up to the rabbit and he is about get it; the rabbit hears him and looks back. I assume the rabbit escapes.
Wild Man pops up in the manuscripts here and there as a monster hairy figure living in the forest. It is not dissimilar to the contemporary myths of Bigfoot and yeti. Medieval forests, however, were bigger, denser and darker and there were indeed real and surreal dark things that dwelled  along the beasts: robbers, outcasts, hermits, spirits, trolls, boges. Pagan ritual were very much alive , just merging with Christian beliefs and fears.

The man above looks more like a naked hairy Santa, then a monster. Here a more images of very different representations.

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 9342, detail of f158v (wild men). Jean Wauquelin, Histoire d’Alexandre. Bruges, mid-15th century.

Lucerne, Zentral- und Hochschulbibliothek, Msc. 42. fol., f. 109r. Nicholas of Lira, Commentary on the Bible [Isaiah], 1459

Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Codices Salemitani IXc, detail of f. 107r. Breviarium abbatis pars hiemalis (Salemer Abtsbrevier I [Winterteil]), 1493/4.

Burning of the Wild Man. Ms651-folio47verso Roman d'Alexandre d'après Pseudo-Callisthène Alexandre livre au bûcher un homme sauvage ; Vers 1470-1475 Ecole française Chantilly, musée Condé
Detail of a miniature of Alexander burning a wild man. From Historia de proelis in a French translation (Le Livre et le vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre) 1420 (British Library)
"Sigenot", Dietrich von Bern with a  Wild Man. Codex from the workshops of Ludwig Henfflin
Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, AN II 3, f. 90r. Rektoratsmatrikel der Universität Basel, Band 1 (1460-1567).
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a wild man embracing (abducting?) a woman. Royal 10 E IV  f. 72. British Library.

My favorite! Wild Man in Red Shoes! Yale, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Beinecke MS 287, detail of f. 80r. Hours, Use of Rome. End of the 15th century (Flanders).

Wild Man is both human and animalistic. It is the inferior uncivilised "other", that can also represent unfamiliar people of the other lands.

Alexander encounter the Wildman in his voyage to Asia, from a medieval manuscript of the Alexander Romance @Biliothèque nationale de France)

Wild Man fits well into the medieval fascination with the liminal.

15th century manuscript illustration of Nebuchanezzar, the Babylonian king from the Old Testament Book of Daniel,
'During that time he lived away from others, eating grass for food and letting his hair and nails grow wild. In the the Middle Ages some mad persons were allowed to go free, and they usually drifted to the woods in order to live unmolested.'


A three meter wild man by Ron Mueck in Tate.


  1. I quote you on my page:
    Best regards : P. Michel (Zurich, Switzerland)

    1. I only wish my knowledge of German was adequate to read it! Looks very interesting!