Scary Monsters and Super Creeps


October 27, 2012 by Gail Armstrong

Halloween looms and the mind naturally turns to monsters, devils and freaks.  You may think these would be hard to come by in the rarefied world of medieval illuminated manuscripts but you would be oh so wrong. 

Today, for your viewing pleasure, I present some “marginal” monsters – bizarre hybrid creatures found with surprising frequency in the borders of sacred texts.  Some are amusing, some a little creepy, some downright rude (yes, I’m talking about you, Gorleston Psalter…).  All are grotesque, which happens to be the name given to these weird little denizens of the details.  Herewith, some of my favourite “grotesques”…

image from

[; Gorleston Psalter, East Anglia, 1310]

You’ve gotta love this guy.  He’s not actually a hybrid – he’s just a bit of a weirdo hanging out on an acanthus vine in his nightgown.  Cross-eyed, with a bad haircut, very unfortunate ears and a slightly pointy tongue, he is cheeky rather than creepy.  I don’t think I’d even bother to cross the street if I saw him on the sidewalk ahead.


[; Harley Hours, England, late 13th c.]

This dude, on the other hand, I’d go out of my way to avoid.  You just know he’s shouting obscenities and has foul breath.  I know it can’t be easy having the hindquarters of a beast and no arms, but there’s no call for the free hurling of abuse.

Grotesque hybrid

[; Book of Hours, France, c. 1430-1440]]

This fellow seems to be far more content with his lot as half man, half pink panther.  I guess it’s easier when you have both forepaws and arms (at least, I’m assuming he’s not just sitting on some unfortunate beast’s head?)  I think he’s reading “I’m OK, You’re OK”, and feeling pretty good about himself.


[; Decretals of Gregory IX, France, late 13th or early 14th c.]

Here’s another fellow with a good attitude.  It’s not everyone who could take in stride having serpentine dragons growing out of the buttocks, not to mention a sword-wielding person standing on your back.  I mean, talk about cause for complaint, yet look at his amiable expression.  Sure he may be a little blue, but he can still muster a smile.


[; Gorleston Psalter, East Anglia, 1310]

Now this is what I call an over-reaction.  Sure the little guy has green beast-legs but no one’s perfect, he’s asking nicely for whatever alms might be spared…vomiting is just not an acceptable response.  


[ and; Anciennes et nouvelles chroniques d’Angleterre, Bruges, between 1471 – 1483]

Now these two must be brothers.  If push came to shove, and I had to choose, then on a double-blind date I’d call the bird with the second head growing out of his tail.  There’s something about the other one’s plucked-chicken look and flowing chest hair I just don’t think I could see past…call me superficial, but there it is.

Perhaps someone should introduce them to the ladies below, both of whom share the affliction of being flower-bound.





Now here’s a hybrid with style…

Winged grotesque

[; Bible historiale, Guyart des Moulins, France, 1st quarter of 15th c.]

He’s both beast and bird, with satyr-like human features.  I like his expressive face, not to mention his dapper hairstyle and beard.


 [; Gorleston Psalter, East Anglia, 1310]

What can I say about these two?  The poor red creature seems to be a beast, with human legs and feet but a bird-like beak.  But his greatest affliction is the vulgar creature pestering him.  Must be half-dog.  (This is by no means the most vulgar or tasteless of the marginalia in the Gorleston Psalter – to read more about it and its “virile” marginal humour, I refer you to a two-part article on the British Library’s “Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts” blog…

And finally, this fine fellow…little more than a head-on-a-stem, albeit a very expressive one…complete with horns and oak leaves.  I love the look of alarm in his eyes and his dramatically down-turned mouth.

[From the Mira calligraphiae monumenta, by Joris Hoefnagel – see previous blog post titled “Would you like a hoefnagel with that bocskay?” – this image found at]

 And I’d say he’s doing fine compared to Miss Fire-Breathing-Horned-Snake-Eyes-with-Hair-Horns…


And with that, Sweet Halloween dreams!


5 thoughts on “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

  1. Mahalia says:

    Thanks for your personal marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it,
    you can be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will often come back down the road.
    I want to encourage continue your great job, have a nice holiday weekend!

  2. Martin Jones says:

    I was born in Gorleston and have only just discovered the Psalter, I would love to have copies of some of the images to frame and wonder if this is possible and how I would go about it. Needless to say i will pay for any costs incurred.
    Kind regards
    Martin Jones

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