May 26, 2017

Here's Something Cool: Fantastic Arch

        This twelfth century carved stone arch from France now resides in the Met Cloisters in New York.  It is its own mini bestiary, including wonderful depictions of some of our old fantasy favorites.  From left to right we get a manticore, a pelican (not fantasy, but a staple of medieval mythology), a basilisk/cockatrice, a harpy, a griffin, a wyvern, a centaur, and a lion (also not fantasy, of course).  The anonymous artist or artists who produced these carvings had a sure hand and a great eye for detail.  I love the textures of feathers, scales, and fur, and the botanical flourishes on the lower planes of the arch.  My favorite thing, however, is the care put into the creatures’ tails, an appendage that might have been an afterthought for lesser artists.  The manticore, basilisk, and wyvern all have serpent-headed tails.  The wyvern seems almost to be consulting with his tail’s head, and the basilisk sharing an affectionate kiss with his, but the wyvern’s tail is biting him on the bum!  Meanwhile the harpy and centaur have tails sprouting into luxuriant flourishes of foliage, and the lion’s tail looks like one of those electrostatic dusters as seen on TV, a very useful beast.  These are tails worth telling!

[Picture: Arch with eight animals, marble carving by anonymous sculptor, c 1150-75 (Image from The Met).]

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