Shark with Napoleon hat
Meet a medieval shark with a hat on. However, there is much more to this funny 13th-century decoration. Medieval decorators often got it wrong when they drew exotic animals like this. Elephants, for example, looked like pigs with big ears. We can’t blame the artists, as they had never seen these animals, which lived far away - and they had no internet or means to travel that far. This is why the image of the shark is so special: it is realistic. It shows its gills, the row of pointy teeth that stick out, and the typical round opening near the tip of the nose. In sum, this decorator had likely seen a shark in real life. For the book historian this is interesting as it may help localize where the book was made. Given that it was produced in France, we may potentially place its production near the ocean, or perhaps even in the south of the country, near the Mediterranean. All that from a bunch of pointy teeth - and some healthy guess work.
Pic: Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, MS 98.
257r, Gospels, MS 58, Trinity College Dublin
118r, Gospels, Sang. 53, Stiftsbibliothek