Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Monday, October 10, 2011


Today on History Undressed we have guest author, Joyce DiPastena, posting on Medieval Bestiaries--a topic not previously discussed on HU, and I think you will find quite interesting!  Enjoy!

by Joyce DiPastena

Bestiary: a collection of drawings or paintings of animals, real or imagined, accompanied by their physical and allegorical descriptions.

Illumination: The medieval art of decorating books with miniatures or ornamental designs painted in brilliant colors or silver or gold leaf to “illuminate” or bring light to the pages.

Medieval bestiaries play a small role in my medieval romance, Illuminations of the Heart. My heroine’s brother “illuminates” a bestiary to prove to his illuminator father that he’s ready to be advanced from apprenticeship in their shop. After her brother and father die, my heroine, Siri, practices her own drawing skills in the gardens of her new guardian, Triston de Brielle, while sitting with Triston’s young son Perrin and cousin Acelet. While conversing with them both about her new home, she draws a bee with a crown hovering above it in the air, and explains to Perrin that swarms of bees are led by a king bee. Yes, it’s the very opposite of what we know about bees today, and a friend who read my book challenged my writing of this scene. I had to explain to her that in the Middle Ages, people not only believed that bees were lead by a king rather than a queen, but that bees, like most of the animal kingdom, represented some kind of allegory, or moral story, to the people of the Middle Ages.

The scene in my story, with the allegory of the bee, went like this. (A note: The Young King refers to the eldest son of King Henry II of England, who was crowned co-ruler with Henry in his lifetime.)

Politics were never spoken of at the table. But Acelet knew no such restraint when he joined Siri in the garden.

“I caught a glimpse of him once,” Acelet said one morning.

He lay sprawled in the grass beside the dog Talbot, while Perrin leaned against Siri and watched her sketch a swarm of honeybees hovering over an array of flowers. This time Acelet had added vertical slashes to the breast of his surcote as well as the sleeves, exposing the bright green tunic beneath. It was, he had informed Siri earnestly, the way the young knights had dressed at the Court of Poitiers when his mother sat in the Queen’s circle. Lucianna muttered over her stitchery that they must have looked like devils. Siri thought lunatics a more apt word. She distracted herself with Perrin before the laughter that bubbled inside her could escape.

“Soon I will show you my paints,” she told the boy. “Then we will turn these flowers yellow and red and green. Who did you catch a glimpse of, Acelet?

“The Young King. Three years ago, just after I came to Vere. Triston had been commanded to join Duke Richard’s siege of Chateauneuf, but he was ill, so he sent his brother, Etienne, in his place. The Young King was at Chateauneuf as well. When word came that he left before the siege was over and that Etienne and some other Poitevins had left with him, Triston sent me to inquire as to the rumor’s truth. I found Etienne with Sir Raynor de Molinet in the Young King’s camp. Etienne refused to return, and as I watched them ride away, I saw the Young King in the forefront.”

His voice hushed, as if in awe of his memories. “He was glorious, rubies sparkling from his coronet, his gold hair gleaming in the sun, his tall frame draped in scarlet and gilt… His every movement was one of charm and grace, and when he turned his head and I saw the beauty in his face—”

“Why did you do that, Lady Siri?” Perrin pulled on Siri’s sleeve as she finished drawing a small crown over one of the bees. She guessed that he had heard his cousin’s breathless recital too many times before to be impressed with it now.

“Because bees are led by a king, as are we,” she said, ignoring the resentful glance Acelet sent at the boy. “He is a most benevolent ruler, leading by example and never turning his sting upon malefactors. He has only to demonstrate to them the error of their ways, and in shame they will turn their own stings upon themselves.”

“Papa says King Henry is a benevolent ruler.”

“Ha!” Acelet’s scornful laugh woke the dozing Talbot. The hound gave a bark. Acelet pulled gently on one of Talbot’s ears, but said, “The old king is a tyrant, crushing our people through his war-hungry son. We were a free people before the Angevins came. Now they seek to take away our liberties, and because we do not want to surrender them, the King sets Duke Richard to ravage us like a wolf among the sheep.”

In the medieval world, each animal, like the bee, represented some sort of moral example or symbolism that humans were encouraged to follow if the symbolism was good (like the bee), or avoid if the symbolism was bad (like the crocodile, which represented hypocrisy with the “false tears” it shed after eating any unfortunate human who stumbled across its path).

In her book, Medieval Beasts, Ann Payne recreates a medieval bestiary complete with over seventy full-color illustrations borrowed from actual medieval bestiaries found in The British Library. She covers animals (lion, tiger, elephant, camel, hedgehog, ants, the mythical leucrota—bred from a hyena and a lioness!—and more); birds (eagle, vulture, ostrich, phoenix, siren, bats and bees—yes, the latter two were considered to fall into the “bird family”—and more); reptiles (viper, asp, boa, salamander, dragon, basilisk, and more); and fish (fish, sera, dolphin, and whale).
If you are interested in sampling a modern reproduction of a medieval bestiary, Medieval Beasts by Ann Payne is a delightful place to start!



He spoke the name on a breath like a prayer. Then he lowered his head and kissed her.

Her heart is lost in that first embrace, her world shaken to its foundations. There is just one problem. Her name is not Clothilde. It is Siriol de Calendri.

Trained in the art of illumination in the far off city of Venice, Siri is directed by her late brother’s will to the county of Poitou in France, where she enters the guardianship of her brother’s friend, Sir Triston de Brielle. Once in Poitou, Siri hopes to find employment in an illuminator’s shop—until Triston unexpectedly snatches her heart away with a kiss.

Triston is a man of quiet honor and courage, but the guilt he carries for the death of his late wife, Clothilde, has left him numb and hesitant to love again. Worse yet, Siri bears an uncanny resemblance to his lost love. Or does she? Her merry laughter and twinkling eyes are very different from his late wife’s shy smiles and quiet ways. Yet when he gazes into Siri’s face, all he is able to see is Clothilde.

Then Triston’s past returns to threaten them both. Will his tragic life with Clothilde be repeated with Siri? Trapped between the rivalry of the king’s sons on the one hand and a neighbor out for vengeance on the other, Triston realizes it would be safer to send Siri away. But how can he bear to lose her again?

Siri is determined not to be cast off and not to live in another woman’s shadow. She has illuminated many a priceless book with pen and paint. But can her own vibrant spirit illuminate the darkness in Triston’s soul and make his heart beat for her alone?


Joyce DiPastena moved from Utah to Arizona at the age of two and grew up to be a dyed-in-the-fur desert rat. She first fell in love with the Middle Ages when she read Thomas B. Costain’s The Conquering Family in high school. She attended the University of Arizona, where she graduated with a degree specializing in medieval history. Joyce loves the Arizona Renaissance Festival, where she does annual book signings, and which she has not missed once in its twenty three years of existence. (She was making annual treks long before she had a book to sign.)

Illuminations of he Heart tells the story of Triston, a character from Joyce’s first medieval romance, Loyalty’s Web. Her third medieval romance, Dangerous Favor, will be released in January 2012. You can read more about her books on her website at http://www.joyce-dipastena.com, find out “what she’s up to now!” on her JDP NEWS blog (http://jdp-news.blogspot.com) or follow along while she researches her novels at Medieval Research with Joyce (http://medievalresearch.blogspot.com).


Michele Holmes said...

I love this book! Great post, Joyce.

Joan Sowards said...

I enjoyed reading Illuminations of the Heart. Thanks for the post.

Anne Patrick said...

Great, informative, post, Joyce. Enjoyed the excerpt too.

Laurean Brooks said...

Joyce, your knowledge of the Medieval period never ceases to amaze me. This was soooo interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Gail Pallotta said...

What an interesting post, Joyce. I enjoyed reading about animals and the Medievil Period. Congratulations on your Illuminations of the Heart series and your upcoming book.

Nichole Giles said...

I did not know that. Thanks for sharing your vast knowledge of all things medieval. Can't wait for your next book.

Danielle Thorne said...

Very interesting. Your knowledge on this period is always fascinating.

Satellite Dishes said...

I have the book, so hopefully I'll win a gift card. And so far, the book is really interesting!

Gina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gina said...

Hi Joyce, really enjoyable and informative post. Loved your excerpt, too. Best of luck with your writings!

kbrebes said...

Very interesting post, Joyce. Thanks so much!

Angela said...

Enlightening, Joyce. Thanks for sharing your depth of knowledge.