The curious fortune of medieval miniatures on Twitter

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Among politicians, journalists and other people who like to argue or comment on current affairs, on Twitter there is a subset of profiles that are very successful by posting funny photos on a specific topic. There is, of course, the dedicated one to cats doing strange thingsthose who every day (or every hour) post a different photo of foxesalligators or capybarawhat adds Paddington Bear to famous scenes from movies or TV series with photoshop, and what he collects “crazy moments of Italian politics“. But there is one that is common to come across, if you have spent some time on Twitter in the last few months, and it is weird medieval guys (literally “weird medieval dudes”).

Almost daily, often several times a day, the person managing the account posts the strangest details and characters found in artwork from the medieval period, almost always miniatures. The first you published was a fish with feet dating back to the thirteenth century, but over the months they appeared a wild boar disguised as a bishop on top of a dromedary, a monk playing dice wearing ones that look a lot like sunglasses, e a dog-doctor who is treating an unidentified sick animal.

@WeirdMedieval has only existed since May, but has already garnered over 466,000 followers on Twitter, as well as a more modest number of followers (13,000) on Instagram. Among them are the President of Chile Gabriel Boric and the investigative journalist of the New Yorker Ronan Farrow.

For a long time, the curator of the profile did not reveal her identity, and many thought that she was a researcher or a professor who deals with medieval art by profession. Recently, however, the person behind weird medieval guys has made his identity public, telling the story of the beloved profile he manages at the magazine Input.

“I think people expected a man in his thirties, wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches,” said Olivia Swarthout, a 23-year-old data scientist who lives and works in London after studying statistics at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland. Instead, she’s just a girl who noticed that medieval artists were a lot of fun browsing the medieval manuscripts found in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. “I was looking for an escape from the technical and mathematical tasks that I had to complete, so I decided to take a break and browse some medieval manuscripts, to put my thoughts in order. Initially I didn’t think of doing anything about it, but then I got lost in art, ”she said.

Every week, Swarthout spends a few hours searching for new interesting content within the digital archives of some of the world’s leading institutions: his favorite is the collection of the British Library in London, because it allows you to search starting from keywords, but uses also the archives of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Morgan Library in New York and the National Library of France.

Among the selected subjects there is some that fans of medieval history know well. For example, on @weirdmedieval it’s easy to find snail paintings engaging in all sorts of activities. Someone they go up ladders or they pull cartsbut in most cases the slugs are portrayed as enemies to fight.

It is a recurring theme in medieval art across Europe, which has confused scholars for years. According to some, snails represent the Lombards, a people who during the early Middle Ages were often accused of treason, usury and “not chivalrous behavior in general”. According to others, it could be a reminder of the inevitability of death, starting with a psalm in the Bible that reads: “Like a snail that melts into slime, they will be carried away; like a stillborn child, they will not see the sun. ‘ Still others think that a heavily armed knight facing a small snail may simply be a very funny image for the sense of humor of the time.

In addition to the omnipresence of snails – which are also painted hybridized with other animals, such as roosters And deer – Swarthout is very fond of sharing paintings of animals that do not resemble their real-world counterparts at all, including a bat with a bizarre headdressa bird covered with eyes And lots of strange lions. The reason why artists of the time drew such rough animals is also a subject of debate among experts: lions, for example, were present in several medieval courts, so it is particularly bizarre that so many artists were not able to represent them in such a way. credible.

What really made the profile fortune, however, is Swarthout’s sense of humor, who often writes imaginative captions to describe the subjects he finds in the archives. Thus, a work that portrays a woman intent on killing a man who sleeps (probably referring to the biblical episode of Judith and Holofernes) is published with the caption “divorce, France, fifteenth century”, while the scene of a demon who takes a gentleman by force becomes “dinner time, France, fourteenth century”.

“I was on Tumblr in the golden age, from 2012 to 2016, when it was an absolutely crazy place: no adults, no brands, just a bunch of teenagers sharing their obsessions on an unhealthy level. That was a big part of my upbringing and my sense of humor, ”Swarthout said. His work as a curator of “weird medieval dudes,” he explains, also comes from a nostalgia for another age of the internet – that of “online nooks that looked more isolated and self-sufficient.”

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About Banner Leon

Videogames entered his life in the late '80s, at the time of the first meeting with Super Mario Bros, and even today they make it a permanent part, after almost 30 years. Pros and defects: he manages to finish Super Mario Bros in less than 5 minutes but he has never finished Final Fight with a credit ... he's still trying.

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