Medieval art is a treasure trove of weirdness. And we’re not the only ones to think so. Daniel Holland created a Twitter thread about medieval animals in paintings that look nothing like real animals because the artist hadn’t actually seen them. The thread went viral and loads of people are now experiencing the joys of drawings in bestiaries based on hearsay, unbridled imagination, and interesting stylistic choices.
Upvote your fave peculiar medieval beats, dear Pandas, and let us know which illustrations you loved the most and why. When you’re done enjoying these paintings, check out our posts about unexpected and creative medieval art right here, here, and here.
Daniel told us that he was inspired to create the thread after seeing a segment in the TV show ‘Horrible Histories’ about inaccurate medieval art. This got him thinking what other examples were out there. Daniel was pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention the pictures got. Read on for the rest of his insights.
While it’s easy to scoff at artists for not knowing how crocodiles, elephants, and tigers look, imagine having to draw them from memory. Better yet, try describing the animal to someone else and have them draw it! Or imagine how well we’d do if we had to draw an alien species when we only had overexaggerated tales from adventurers to go by.
However, there might be other reasons why medieval artists drew animals this way and it might not just be because of bad descriptions—it could have been a stylistic decision.
“I’ve been educated by a lot of replies I’ve had that these pictures were often painted in this style for a myriad of reasons, not necessarily because of poor descriptions received by the artists,” Daniel pointed out. “I’d assume if artists were given descriptions today without seeing animals and asked to paint them the only difference would be technical ability and materials used, they’d likely look just as inaccurate.”
Bored Panda previously spoke about medieval illustrations with Dr. Catherine Harding from the University of Victoria and Professor Claire LaBrecque from the University of Winnipeg. According to them, medieval scribes and artists enjoyed creating rich and deep networks of meaning for their audiences with their paintings, sometimes with hidden meanings for their audiences to puzzle out. Also, they weren’t strangers to playfulness in their art.
How long each illustration took varied wildly depending on a lot of factors: from the size of the book to how complex the drawings were. Simple pen-and-wash illustrations could be done in minutes while more serious drawings required gold and precious pigments.
“We have all these stereotyped ideas about how religious medieval people were. But the research shows over and over again how creative, playful and resilient they were,” Dr. Harding told Bored Panda. “There is strong evidence for people who thought outside of the box as in the case of a medieval heretic, who created their own mental world that runs counter to the culture. I love their mental agility and their passion for questioning. They made medieval Christianity over and over again in so many ways. That is the creative part.”
Professor LaBrecque said that, in her opinion, we’re living in a world that’s strange but not stranger than it was in medieval times. “It was just different, and unexpected, and super creative.”