Monday, 25 April 2016

. . .Khaleesi?

From the Amherst Hours, Ms. W.167, detail of f.101v. From Walters Art Museum.

Holy mother of dragons! Khaleesi, is that you?!

Game of Thrones fans might look at the picture above and think that the lady in blue, riding atop a dragon, looks remarkably like a medieval depiction of Daenerys Targaryen  Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, Stormborn, etc., etc., etc. However, this Dany lookalike is actually Saint Margaret of Antioch, with this image dating to the fifteenth century AD.

Margaret (not to be confused with St Margaret of Scotland or Hungary) and her legend grew in popularity during the medieval period, largely thanks to her appearance in Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend – a collection of saints' lives (13C). According to this, Margaret was born in Antioch during the late third century AD. She was the daughter of a pagan prince, but nonetheless converted to Christianity and took a vow of eternal chastity. Upon discovering this, she was driven out of her home by her pagan father and went to live in an area in what is now Turkey with the nurse who raised her (Margaret's mother had died soon after childbirth) and began work as a shepherdess. 

The Roman prefect approaching Margaret. Jean Fouquet, in Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier, Louvre, M.I. 1093 (1452.–60).
One day when she was tending her sheep in the fields, Margaret caught the eye of a Roman prefect named Olybrius who was passing by with his men. Instantly smitten, he decided on the spot that he would have this beauty no matter what. He proposed immediately, but Margaret stayed true to her vow and declined his offer. Enraged, the prefect charged her with being a Christian and had her captured and imprisoned.

Margaret's imprisonment, from Tectino’s Life of St Margaret of Antioch in verse, northern Italy, first half of 15C, Harley MS 5347, f. 26v.
Margaret was tortured with every kind of punishment imaginable but still would not renounce her Christian faith and marry Olybrius. Then, according to legend, she was visited by Satan in the shape of a dragon. He swallowed her whole, but after Margaret held her cross pendant and prayed for aid, she emerged unscathed from the belly of the beast.

Despite her incredible survival from the dragon, Margaret was ultimately martyred by beheading. However before she was killed, Margaret prayed that any woman suffering a difficult labour and who invoked her aid would receive deliverance of a healthy child – just as she had been delivered safely from the dragon's belly. Perhaps then, while she may resemble the Mother of Dragons in many works of art, a more fitting title for Margaret would be Daughter of Dragons!

Below are some medieval examples of St Margaret (click/tap to enlarge):

Getty Museum, 'Saint Margaret' by Lieven van Lathem, Ghent, 1469.

Margaret emerging from the dragon, then being beheaded. From the British Library, Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 256r.
Defeating the beast with her cross. From the Morgan Library, Prayer roll, MS G.39 fol. 18r.

Saint Margaret and the dragon. From Toulouse, France, 15C.

Detail of a miniature showing Margaret emerging from the dragon, note her blue robe still in the beast's mouth after consuming her. British Library, from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1440 – c. 1450, Egerton MS 2019, f. 216r.

From Web Gallery of Art, c. 1400, Szépmûvészeti Museum, Budapest.

Notice de Paule Hochuli Dubuis, c. 1402, MS. fr. 57, f. 189r, Bibliothèque de Genève.

Saint Margaret and the Dragon, by Agnolo Gaddi, Italy (14C).

Wonderfully gruesome! From Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne,illuminated by Jean Poyer, Tours, c. 1492–95. Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.50 (fol. 20v).

These are just some of the wonderful images and works of art portraying St Margaret. If you have any other favourite images/artwork of Saint Margaret, leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or get in touch on Facebook, and I will share them  valar dohaeris.