Welcome to my personal tumblr, here you might see some of the things that interest me. Among those things, you might find history trivia, art, Marilyn Manson, ethnic and personal photography. Feel free to comment, correct or criticize.

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Medieval poisoning ring

While I usually present books and book illustrations from the Middle Ages here, this newly discovered piece of medieval material culture is just too unusual and fascinating not to show. Recently this bronze ring from the 14th century was found in Bulgaria. It was made so that liquid - poison, experts believe - could be stored inside a small compartment. The liquid was then pored out in a rival’s drink. You heard it right: this is a medieval poisoning ring, an artifact used by James Bond’s ancestor to assassinate one’s enemy. Such rings were used up to the 17th century, it turns out. It’s almost as cool as a medieval book…

Read more about it in this news article and this one.


Battleground tooth

Quickly look away if you are suffering from tooth ache at the moment. This image from an 18th-century Arabic manuscript shows you what’s going on. There are worms inside - and particularly nasty ones for that matter. What’s more, they are nibbling away at tiny bearded men, who are screaming for help and try to fight back. Battleground tooth: I feel sorry for the individual in ancient times who was given such a graphic explanation for the pain in his tooth.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Arab d 256 (18th century). More here (click menu > more information).


Valle del Elquí

About a month ago, our group of 8 friends packed a minivan and headed up north to an area called Valle del Elquí. The place consists of nature and small villages so cute, I thought I’d never seen anything cuter. After an eight hour drive we finally arrived to our little village called Pisco, and with the help of some friendly locals, we found our camping area too. We had our camping spirit on and we slept in tents, made food over fire and used the light from the stars to guide us to the bathrooms. During the days we visited our neighboring pueblitos, went horsebackriding and saw Saturn the planet in one of the observatories. The three days filled with breathtaking views, amazing nature and something genuinely Chilean was a perfect getaway from the big city. I would recommend Valle del Elquí for anyone who seeks for something adventurous yet comfortable. 

So what to do once you get to Valle del Elquí

The observatories: How cool to learn something about the stars and understand the universe a little bit better (Though, I don’t think we are fully capable of understanding the universe completely, ever). The observatory was magical, you are literally between the mountains and the stars, and the stars are the only thing that light up the sky. A plus is that you see many shooting stars, therefore you get to wish many times!

Horseback riding in the mountains: I am not a huge fan of horses but I have to admit that a horseback riding tour in the mountains would get anyone excited of horses. If you want to have more of an adrenalin kick, you should do it by night, when neither you nor the horse can see a thing, talk about te importance of trust here. We had our tour during the night, which was adventurous enough for me.  But then out of the blue, I had a wild horse chasing my horse, which took the tour on a new level.


A love story hidden in a hat

You are looking at a medieval book from c. 1270, but it has a most unusual shape - and a most ironic story. In fact, you are looking at fragments of a such a book, which form a research passion of mine. In the early-modern period bookbinders cut up medieval manuscripts because the handwritten objects had become old-fashioned after the invention of printing. As a result, we encounter snippets of manuscripts on the inside of bookbindings, as I explain in this blog about such beautiful destruction - a more recent discovery is presented in this blog.

Occasionally the recycled parchment sheets were used for other purposes: the pages in this image form the lining of a bishop’s mitre - onto which the cloth was subsequently pasted. What’s remarkable about the hat is not just that the poor bishop had a bunch of hidden medieval pages on his head, but that they were cut from a Norwegian translation of Old French love poetry (so-called lais). Lovers were chasing each other through dark corridors, maidens were frolicking in the fields, knights were butchering each other over nothing. All the while the oblivious bishop was performing the rites of the Holy Mass. It’s a wonderful historical clash; as well as the mother of all irony.

Pic: Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, MS AM 666 b 4to (c. 1270,  Strengleikar, Norse translation of Old French love poems). More information about this wicked item here.



Detail of a miniature of an owl being mobbed by other birds.

From a bestiary, England, 2nd quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 4751, f. 47r.

In spite of his great haircut, this owl is attacked by other birds. Or are the latter incapable of stopping themselves from kissing the handsome chap? In either case, owl does not seem to care.



Medieval smiley face

This is a true feel-good doodle, drawn by a medieval reader and found in the lower margin of a 13th-century page. The surprisingly modern-looking smiley face is wearing glasses and seems to float towards the text in a balloon, quite content. This little scene made my day.

Pic: Conches, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 7 (main text 13th century, doodle 14th or 15th century). More medieval doodles in this Tumblr.

You should all follow Erik Kwakkel’s tumblr, all of his amazing medieval posts have lovely annotations, a rare thing on tumblr where too often we see images with little context.  Superb!




Doodles by a child in Medieval Novgorod. 

The Art of Onfim: Medieval Novgorod Through the Eyes of a Child

This is one of many fascinating birchbark documents and notes that survive from medieval Novgorod. More about this type of document: http://geocurrents.info/cultural-geography/linguistic-geography/birch-bark-documents-from-novgorod-russia

so great


Fun Medieval Doodles

Here is a small selection of doodles I tweeted over the past year (@erik_kwakkel). Although they are usually not exactly eye-candy, they are easy to like. I think this is because they are often very funny, but also because the activity is such a familiar one. Almost without thinking we ourselves doodle on notepads, post-it notes or in the margin of the newspaper.

While our drawings are often the result of boredom, in the Middle Ages there was often a more pragmatic rationale behind their creation. In some cases they were a response to the text, such as the Adam and Eve doodle above. Moreover, many were the fruit of correcting the nib of the pen, like the little dog’s head. They are the medieval equivalent, as it were, of our scratching on a piece of paper to get the ink flowing.

In other cases still it remains a mystery what the doodling scribe was thinking. Why draw the skeleton that seems to hold a glass, for example? Is it a warning that our enjoying the delights of this planet will ultimately come to an end? A medieval campaign against riding your horse while under influence? Whatever the meaning of this poor guy with his drink may be, and in spite of the fact we are reminded of our own mortality, sketches like this do brighten the page - and my day.

(via beatonna)


A bus ride in Dallas, 1956.

(via helpless-hysteria)


There’s something wonderful about Marvin Bileck’s minimal illustrations for All About the Stars.  


Gregory Sukhov takes his pet bear Mickey for a walk in Moscow c. 1963 (x)

(via helpless-hysteria)



anabula - an ethiopian beast 
(most certainly a giraffe…) 

Thomas of Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, France ca. 1290.

Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 320, fol. 51v

haha yeahhh there’s nothing better than when medieval artists drew animals they’d never seen.  Guesswork!



From 1527 to 1529, Jorge de Alvarado and his Nahua allies were able to conquer most of what is now Guatemala. The success of the conquest is due in large part to the participation of the indigenous conquistadores from central Mexico who fought alongside the Spaniards. The indigenous warriors were familiar with the roads, local customs of warfare, and the languages. In addition, they provided the manpower.

There is so much detail in this.  The online exhibit, Capturing Warfare: Enemies and Allies in the Pre-Columbian World has many such detailed artworks with descriptions.