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Lions and Taurs at The Cloisters [1 Dec 13] Being thankful for medieval art.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I went on a family expedition to The Cloisters, the museum of medieval art located at the northern tip of Manhattan Island. When I saw the many lions and taur-like works in the museum, I had to blog about them. With thanks to my sister for the idea of going, and to my wife for the use of her iPhone for photos, here are some remarkable discoveries:

Here's a marvelous fresco of a lion. The monks must have been fans of Yosemite Sam, or at least his moustache. (More info here).
medieval lion fresco

The same gallery held other frescoes of beasts exotic and fantastical, including this "dragon." To a D&Der's eye, the two legs and no foreclaws give it away as a wyvern, of course, but the Monster Manual was pretty scarce circa 1200, so you can't be too hard on the monks. (Every copy had to be written out by hand, and most of the monastery copyists never got past the succubus page -- so they never saw the entry for "wyvern.") (More info here)
medieval dragon fresco

But wait! What the heck is that in the lower left corner?!
medieval lion-biped-winged-taur fresco

Holy tails and paws, it's a ... a ... winged ... bipedal ... lion ... taur? Two lion legs, lion tail, wings, and a human torso, head, and arms! And if you count the wings as limbs, then it has six limbs, which makes it *kind* of a liontaur? Well, that's an odd one, right? One of a kind, probably. The artist had been too deep into the sacramental wine that day maybe.

I saw three more wonderful lions at The Cloisters (click to enlarge):
medieval lion aquamanile
A golden lion aquamanile, that is, a kind of pitcher.
(More info here)
medieval lion aquamanile
A heraldic lion on a shield inside a box lid.
(More info here)
medieval lion sarcophagus
A lion on a sarcophagus, at his master's feet.
(More info here)

Now, deep in the bowels of The Cloisters there is a gallery called "The Treasury." It is filled with medieval riches to make tax collectors sigh and Vikings drool: reliquaries, chalices, gold, ivory, jewelry ... and illuminated manuscripts, like this one (More info here):
medieval illuminated prayer book

But wait! What the heck is that in the lower right corner?!
medieval lion-biped-winged-taur manuscript

Holy wings and whiskers, it's a ... another ... winged ... bipedal ... lion ... taur?! Same two lion legs, lion tail, wings, human torso, head, and arms! The wings in both examples are both positioned (oddly, maybe, to a modern eye) on the hips, not the shoulder blades. This one is just like the one in the "dragon" fresco. Except this one seems to be casting some kind of prismatic ray spell.

So, clearly, this creature, whatever it is, is not a unique accident or one-shot doodle by some mad monk; two examples makes it serendipity. Now I have a new quest: Find out why the heck medieval artists drew bipedal winged liontaurs!

Oh, and I cannot let pass this sighting of a young wemic cub at rest in a stone niche at the museum, as well. But I expect it will not be there when you visit. Enjoy!

Home | This page last modified: 1 Dec 13