Today’s amuse-bouche comes from our good friend and contributor Albert Pinto. Albert and his wife Monique have made a point to visit many of the Romanesque churches in France and their copy of André Verrassel’s 850 église romanes de France is filled with annotations of their visits and observations. One of observations is this delightful capital from the Église Saint Patrice in Saint Parize-le-Chatel.
Albert’s commentary is hilarious; “I wonder if this figure holding straight above his head a disproportionate foot makes any sense, but it could illustrate the medieval equivalent of the modern popular french expression prendre son pied, which means taking an intense pleasure. Unless the man on this capital intends to use his huge foot as un umbrella. In which case, we could indulge in a joke such as: “An umbrella ? My foot!”
Personally, I cannot come up with a better explanation than the umbrella. The floor is open for more suggestions, or at least captions!
Addendum: Carol Glanville, one of our regulars here at Via Lucis, has solved the mystery! This is a legendary monopod, the “sciapod” or in the original Greek σκιαπόδεϛ or “shade-footed ones” – in the The Esoteric Codex: Medieval European Legendary Creatures by Chadwick Westerberg they are so defined because “… when it is hot they lie on their backs on the ground and are shaded by the great size of their feet.”
Here is another example of the sciapod from the famous Nuremberg Chronicles.
She also quotes Isaiah 13:21, “But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures and owls shall dwell there and satyrs shall dance there.”
Thank you, Carol!
Albert Pinto wrote me again with the following information addressing both the monopod.
The legend of the monopod related in the Nuremberg document has much earlier origins. Here is a short text written by Dr.C.K. Wheeler, from Carson-Newman University :
“Monopod” (alias sciopod): The original version of the monopod legend appears in Pliny’s Natural Histories, his series of Latin books dealing with the wonders of the biological and geological world. There, he describes how travelers have told him of the monopods, which have a broad-toed foot, with the toes curled upward in a shape reminiscent of a little boat. Their extraordinary method of resting was Lying flat on their backs with the single leg straight up in the air like a parasol, protecting them from harsh sun or rain. They traveled by hopping from place to place, and they apparently lived in the antipodes (i.e., the southern hemisphere).
Most mythological critters of this sort were probably transmitted to medieval readers by Isidore of Seville, whose encyclopedic works, the Etymologiae, included a compendium of strange words, creatures, herbs, and gems, discussing their magical properties ”
And here is what Isidore of Seville wrote about the sciapode:
“The race of Sciopodes are said to live in Ethiopia; they have only one leg, and are wonderfully speedy. The Greeks call them σκιαπόδεϛ (“shade-footed ones”) because when it is hot they lie on their backs on the ground and are shaded by the great size of their feet.
The Hereford Mappa Mundi, drawnc. 1300, shows a sciapod on one side of the world, as does a world map in the famous Beatus of Liebana ( c. 800 ).
In fact, one must assume that the romanesque sculptors an those who followed during the gothic age, were not only concerned with catechism but also moved by by a fantastic ornamental craftsmanship.
I join a quotation from Baltrusaitis’s most interesting book : “Formations et déformations : la stylistique ornementale dans la sculpture romane” ( Flammarion ).
The legend of the monopode has indeed found a contemporary echo in Lewis’s famous “Chronicles of Narnia”.
Albert also sent the following image from the cathedral in Sens.
This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.