Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Andromeda
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    In this manuscript illustration, Andromeda, a legendary princess of the Ethiopians, is chained to rocks awaiting the arrival of a sea monster who will devour her. The Greek myth recounts that this is the punishment required after her mother, Queen Cassiopeia, boasted that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. Her father, King Cepheus, was given the choice of sacrificing his daughter or having the entire kingdom laid to waste. Andromeda and Cassiopeia were identified as constellations in antiquity along with Andromeda's father, and her rescuers, Perseus and the flying horse Pegasus. Even the vanquished sea monster, Cetus, was memorialized in the stars. The illusionistic style of painting with the detailed modelling of the body as well as the choice to represent Andromeda as semi-nude argue for the direct influence of an earlier manuscript, likely from the mid-fourth or fifth centuries. The script, written in rustic capitals, also points to a late antique model. This script developed in the Roman period from letters used for carved inscriptions on monuments.

    This illustration comes from a ninth century manuscript about astronomy and meteorology based on a Greek poem, the Phaenomena, written by Aratus of Soli, a Hellenistic author at the Macedonian court circa 276-274 B.C.E. He emphasized the utility of knowing about the heavens and argued that its organization reflected the providential nature of its creator. The poem was translated into Latin by Germanicus Julius Caesar, nephew of the emperor Tiberius and son through adoption, around 15 B.C.E-19 C.E. This copy of the Aratea (as it is called after its Greek originator) also includes portions of a later Latin translation by Rufius Festus Avienus done in the fourth century. There are thirty-nine miniatures illustrating constellations, the seasons, and planets. At least five others are missing including the constellation Virgo and Jupiter as a personification of the heavens. The manuscript does not provide information about patronage or scriptorium. Scholars see similarities with the Psalter of Emperor Lothar I, made after 843 in Lorraine. Given the artistry involved, it was likely created for a member of the Carolingian court. Several scholars place its creation in connection with the court of Louis the Pious.

    The figure of Andromeda draws on iconography from the Classical period. She was typically represented as chained to rocks with her arms extended. The Greek text from Aratus emphasizes her captivity: There too revolves that awesome figure of Andromeda, well defined
    beneath her mother. I do not think you will have to look all round
    the night sky in order to sight her very quickly,
    so clear are her head, the shoulders on either side,
    the feet at her extremity, and all her girdle.
    Even there, however, she is extended with outstretched arms,
    and bonds are laid on her even in the sky;
    those arms of hers are raised and out-spread there all the time.(197-204)(Kidd, 1997)

    Her vulnerability is heightened by her semi-nudity. The artist adopts a late antique style that models her rounded breasts, curves and belly to convey a sensual beauty. Andromeda is adorned with bracelets and earrings with her hair full and loose. Does this ancient imagery carry a further meaning for a Carolingian audience? Could it foreshadow Andromeda as a bride and her marriage with Perseus that would soon be consummated? The many children from their union would also be considered an important result of Andromeda's desirable body.

    The Carolingian period is marked by a revival in Classical learning. This involved the copying of ancient texts and an increased level in Latin literary skills. Charlemagne sought to have priests educated in order to aid in administration and help unify the disparate territories within the Carolingian kingdom. Astronomy played an important role in this education. At a practical level priests needed to be able to calculate the correct days for moveable Church feasts including Easter. More broadly the heavenly spheres moved by God's will and required study to apprehend the divine plan. In taking as their own the Classical heritage represented by this astronomical knowledge and mythological art, courtiers strengthened the Carolingian kings' claim to be the successors to the Roman emperors.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Andromeda (Mythological Figure) Astronomy Classical Influences Nude in Art
  • Geographic Area: Northeastern France
  • Century: 9
  • Date: circa 850
  • Related Work: Perseus freeing Andromeda, fresco from the Casa Dei Dioscuri, Pompeii, 1st c. CE, Italy.
    Andromeda and Perseus, mosaic, 3rd C. CE, Tunis, Bardo National Museum.
    Selected images from the Leiden Aratea, Wikimedia Commons.
    Cassiopeia, from a facsimile of the Leiden Aratea published by Ziereis Faksimiles.
    Andromeda, Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, AN IV 18, fol. 25r, Aratea, early 9th c., Fulda, Germany.
    Andromeda, Aberystwyth Aratea, National Library of Wales, Ms. 735C, fol. 19v, 11th century, France.
    Descriptions and selected images from medieval manuscripts of the Aratea, from the Saxl Project website.
  • Current Location: Leiden, Leiden University Libraries, MS VLQ 79, fol. 30v
  • Original Location: Northeastern France
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paints; Gold;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 22.5/20/
  • Inscription: Short instructions for the illuminator: meda. Abbreviated form of Andromeda.
  • Related Resources:

    Dobacheva, Ivana. "Leiden, Universitaire Bibliotheken, VLQ 79." This manuscript description appears in the Aratea Digital website.

    Dolan, Marion. Astronomical Symbolism in the Carolingian Period. Springer, 2017.

    Katzenstein, Ranee and Emilie Savage-Smith. The Leiden Aratea: Ancient Constellations in a Medieval Manuscript. J. Paul Getty Museum, 1988. Available open access.

    Melzak, Robert. "Antiquarianism in the Time of Louis the Pious and Its Influence on the Art of Metz." Charlemagne’s Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814–40). Edited by Peter Godman and Roger Collins. Clarendon, 1990. Pages 629-640.

    Nees, Lawrence. Early Medieval Art. Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Ramírez-Weaver, Eric M. "Permeable Membranes: Classical Astronomy, Pan-Mediterranean Iconography, and Their Carolingian Appropriation in the Leiden Aratea." Medieval Globe 5, 1 (2019): 1-31.

    Ramírez-Weaver, Eric M. A Saving Science: Capturing the Heavens in Carolingian Manuscripts. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017.

    Sayáns Gómez, Francisco. "El ciclo de Casiopea en los manuscritos latinos medievales"/"The Casiopea Cycle in the Medieval Latin Manuscripts." Revista Digital de Iconografíca Medieval 10, 18 (2018): 99-128. Available open access.

    Solensis Aratus. Phaenomena. Translated by Douglas Alexander Kidd. Cambridge University Press, 1997.