Monster Engravings

Monstrous Engravings: Myrmecoleon!

odd ant

The Myrmecoleon is an animal from classical times and is found in Medieval bestiaries such as the Hortus Sanitatis of Jacob Meydenbach.  Also it is referenced in some sources as a Formicaleon, Formicaleun or Mirmicioleon—-all meaning “Antlion”.

There are two interpretations of what a Myrmecoleon is. In one version, the antlion is so called because it is the “lion of ants”— the larvae of the insect known as an antlion lacewing—- and hides in the dust and eats ants. In the other version, it is a beast that is the result of a mating between a lion and an ant(seriously?) It has the face of a lion and the body of an ant, with each part having its appropriate nature. Because the lion part will only eat meat and the ant part can only digest grain, the ant-lion starves. In my opinion, the above creature looks more like a pig with a beak and bird feet, pretty true to the engraving from which I drew it.
The ant-lion story may come from a mistranslation of a word in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, from the book of Job. The word in Hebrew is laiisch, an uncommon word for lion, which in other translations of Job is rendered as either lion or tiger; in the Septuagint it is translated as mermecolion, ant-lion.



Monstrous Engravings: Plague Doctor!

Plague Doctor.jpg

This is drawn from  a copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel [i.e Dr. Beak], a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, circa 1656.

Plague doctors served as public servants during the time of the Black Death of Europe in the fourteenth century. Their principal task, besides taking care of plague victims, was to record in public records the deaths due to the plague. Some of these “doctors” wore a special costume, although graphic sources show that plague doctors wore a variety of garments(and often had no medical training). The garments were invented by Charles de L’Orme in 1619; they were first used in Paris, but later spread to be used throughout Europe. The protective suit consisted of a heavy fabric overcoat that was waxed, a mask with glass eye openings and a cone nose shaped like a beak to hold scented substances. Some of the scented materials were ambergris, lemon balm,mint leaves, camphor, cloves,laudanum, myrrh, rose petals, storax. This was thought to protect the doctor from miasmatic bad air. There was also a bit of straw in the beak and this acted as a filter for the “bad air” that was thought to transmit the disease. Plague doctors also carried a  wooden cane pointer that was used to point to and examine the patient without having to touch them.




Monster Engravings: Morss Piscis.

Morss picsis

  In 1635, scientist and artist Juan Eusebio Nieremberg published this piece in Historia Naturae, which focuses largely on the natural history of Mexico. Historia Naturae was compiled primarily from research conducted in New Spain in the 1570s by the Spanish physician naturalist Francisco Hernández (1515–1587). It includes six folio text volumes containing over three thousand plants, animals, and minerals and ten folio volumes of paintings by Mexican artists illustrating the plants and animals described in the text.
“Morss Piscis” means “Marine Fish” and gives no clue to the animal’s identity. It is believed that this actually once an otter, and the drawing was made of the dessicated pelt of the unfortunate animal.

Engravings: Human-Headed Sheep.

Human Head Sheep_0002.jpg

This is from the 1665 edition of Fortunio Liceti’s De Monstris. Okay, this was definitely an odd one to discover. And again, it is an engraving I am reproducing, so I have no photographic evidence as to what exactly was going on with the head/face of this sheep.
Liceti’s work was possibly the most influential of the period dealing with deformities and monsters. In the wake of his book there was a huge rise in interest throughout Europe in “monstrosities” such as supposed mermaids, deformed fetuses, and other natural marvels.
Licenti did not see deformity as something negative—errors and failures in the course of nature—unlike many of his contemporaries. He compared nature to an artist who, faced with some imperfection in the materials to be shaped, ingeniously creates another form still more admirable.

Monster Engravings: The Behemoth!


William Blake, an English poet, painter, and printmaker, published  a series of twenty-two engraved prints in 1826 entitled  Illustrations of the Book of Job. The engravings were completed in 1825, and an edition of 315 was produced in 1826. These were the last set of illustrations that Blake would complete. His illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy were left unfinished upon his death.
Early on in his artistic career, Blake had collected the prints of Albrecht Dürer. How the Behemoth is depicted in  the engraving Behemoth and Leviathan in Illustrations of the Book of Job is believed to have been influenced by Dürer’s Rhinoceros.

I look at a lot of bizarre stuff in my love and research of monsters of folklore..but this one seriously creeps me out with its human ears. D: