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Old Screeds

25 Illuminated Sagittaries [25 Sept 16] With many thanks to the Morgan Library in New York

I've long been interested in sagittaries drawn in the margins of medieval manuscripts -- witness past screeds on the topic here, here, here, and here. I've found it rewarding to go a-hunting sagittary by visiting the websites of art museums and searching entire collections, especially for "centaur." Well, I really hit paydirt at the website of The Morgan Library & Museum, located at 225 Madison Avenue in New York City, and more to the point, at its wonderfully cataloged online collection of Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts.

The collection -- nearly 1,500 manuscripts! -- is detailed online by PAGE, and each illustration on each page is shown and described. Now, the curators tagged pretty much everything vaguely taur-like as "centaur," but that's fine! My search on centaur turned up about 200 images, I reckon, mostly true centaurs and centaur-like creatures, also some drolleries and grotesques and bipedal hybrids, and also the most extensive collection of leonine sagittaries ever! Well, if we limit our definition of "sagittary" to archers proper, then yes, plenty of those, and also lots of non-archer liontaurs ... lots! I picked out a subset of the collection below.

The dates of these works is interesting. A couple from the Thirteenth Century, a couple more from the Fourteenth, but the vast preponderance from the Fiftenth. Liontaurs were fashionable in monkisn marginalia just before the dawn of the printing press.

I hesitate to say how many liontaurs are in the Morgan Library collection, exactly. For one thing, sometimes it is hard to seperate the liontaurs from the centaurs in the old monkish sketches and art. In the list of personal favorites that I compiled, shown below, I did not include the portions of taur torsos and body parts in old medical manuscripts, for example. I left out some liontaurish creatures with dog tails, or no tails at all, or with anbiguous feet (hooves? paws?). But the best 25 of the lot, in my opinion, are here for you to enjoy.

(The Morgan Library & Museum's terms and conditions on using these images kindly allow me to reproduce them below, but without cropping or alteration. Each one has the manuscript details as a captioned link back to the original; please do click to browse even more images and learn more.)

Look at the pose here, a remarkable angle seldom seen. Three-toed paws and a long narrow tail confirm this as a leonine sagittary. Book of Hours; France, Rouen, ca. 1490; MS M.144 fol. 11v

Are these paws or split hooves? But the narrow tail with tuft and the hint of mane at the waist tell us this is a liontaur. Still ... dark blue fur with light blue spots? Mmmm ... Okay! Breviary; France, Paris, ca. 1350; MS M.75 fol. 6r

Here's a noble looking fellow with a shield and a scimitar! Book of Hours; France, Rouen, ca. 1470; MS M.167 fol. 1r

A true sagittary with his bow. Book of Hours; Belgium, perhaps Bruges, ca. 1420, MS M.76 fol. 13r

This and the subsequent four following are all from the same manuscript, likely the same hand, judging by the similarities in style. The first two are both members of the green-fur clan! Book of Hours; France, Paris, ca. 1420-1425; MS M.1004 fol. 130v

This female looks so happy in her nudity! What monkish dreams inspired her creation? Book of Hours; France, Paris, ca. 1420-1425; MS M.1004 fol. 30r

That tail looks a bit canine ... is this a dog-taur? Book of Hours; France, Paris, ca. 1420-1425; MS M.1004 fol. 26v

The illustrator's second female taur, this one a cook! Funny how all four have the same ... belt? ridge? around the waist where beast meets human.Book of Hours; France, Paris, ca. 1420-1425; MS M.1004 fol. 22v

This blue-furred liontaur is begging the dreaded bunny-man to keep that axe away from his tail! Book of Hours; France, Paris, ca. 1420-1425; MS M.1004 fol. 145v

This beautifully detailed sagittary is shooting back down the mountain at his pursuers as he flees back to the highlands! Book of Hours; France, Loire, ca. 1475; MS G.1 I fol. 11r

Another lovely sagittary who really should not be shooting at that assistant pig-keeper. Hen Wen, tell him! Book of Hours; Brittany, France, ca. 1440-1450, Paris, France, ca. 1500-1510; MS M.117 fol. 6r

Liontaur blowing a horn. (I like the mermaid on the same page.) Book of Hours; France, Rouen, ca. 1470; MS M.167 fol. 29r

Sagittary with six-pack. You have to be strong to pull the bow. Gradual, Sequentiary, Sacramentary; Austria, perhaps Salzburg, ca. 1260-1264; MS M.855 fol. 6v

This savage-looking fellow has tattoos or war paint top to bottom. Gradual, Sequentiary, and Sacramentary; Germany, Weingarten, ca. 1225-1250; MS M.711 fol. 7r

In this scene, the assistant pig keeper has shed himself of cumbersome clothes, mounted the oracular piggie, and engaged the evil sagittary with club and shield! I don't remember that in the book! Book of Hours; France, Rouen, ca. 1470; MS M.167 fol. 56r

With all the looking back and firing, how do liontaurs avoid running into trees? And pig keepers?! Watch out, friend! He's not looking at you! Book of Hours; France, ca. 1400; MS M.264 fol. 11r

This goof-ball just got a job as a court jester! Book of Hours; Belgium, perhaps Bruges, ca. 1420; MS M.76 fol. 53v

Now, here is as leonine a sagittary as could be. Look at those claws! That mane! Book of Hours; France, Angers or Nantes, ca. 1440; M.63 fol. 11v

Another fine feline sagittary. Book of Hours; France, Rouen, ca. 1480; MS M.131 fol. 11v

This one's face is quite finely rendered. And the hairstyle is ... monkish? A self-portrait? Or some other monk? Book of Hours; France, probably Rouen, ca. 1420-1430; MS M.v27 fol. 13r

A liontaur with a spiked shield faces off against a blue dire swan! Book of Hours; France, perhaps in Paris or northeastern France, ca. 1465; MS M.1003 fol. 211v

Watch out, sagittary! You're about to run right into those pigs! Book of Hours; France, Paris, ca. 1425-1430; MS M.453 fol. 11r

A beautiful sagittary with long hair. Book of Hours; France, Rouen or Orléans, last quarter of 15th century; MS G.4 fol. 12v

He's in the margin and a bit hard to see, but this looks like a sagittary whose human half is not a white guy. This is the only black liontaur I've seen in these manuscripts. Book of Hours; France, possibly the Loire River Valley, ca. 1460; MS M.1067 fol. 5r

This is heraldry of Sicambrin le Troy (sable, a centaur or, armed with bow and arrow azure, fletched gules). The book's title translates, if my high school French is worth anything, "Names, coats of arms, and flags of the Knights of the Round Table." So Sir Sicambrin was a fictional knight whose heraldry was a sagittary? Noms, armes et blasons des chevaliers de la Table Ronde; France, ca. 1500; MS M. 16 fol. 72r

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