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Serpent or Half-Serpent? Bernhard Richel’s Melusine and the Making of a Western European Icon

Authors
  • Zeldenrust, Lydia1
  • 1 Queen Mary, University of London, School of English and Drama, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS, UK , London (United Kingdom)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Neophilologus
Publisher
Springer Netherlands
Publication Date
Oct 13, 2015
Volume
100
Issue
1
Pages
19–41
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s11061-015-9458-0
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
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Abstract

This essay presents a much-needed exploration of the impact of the woodcuts of the first German Melusine edition on the iconography of the larger, Western European Mélusine tradition. Although the debt owed by printers of early German Melusine editions to Bernhard Richel’s editio princeps has been acknowledged, the influence of Richel’s images on the woodcuts of early editions printed in other languages—French, Castilian, Dutch, and English—as yet remains largely unexplored. By examining the impact of one of Richel’s woodcuts in particular—that depicting Melusine’s transformation into a half-serpent—this essay will trace how Richel’s iconography came to play such an important role that his depiction of Melusine’s hybrid body eventually became one of her defining and most recognisable characteristics. In so doing, it reveals a number of interesting transcultural connections between early Mélusine printers and the clever image-recycling strategies they employed. This case study will also give us valuable insight into the production and illustration of early printed books, as the cross-cultural reuse and copying of prototype images challenge modern ideas of coherence between text and image.

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