I tweeted this comparison between a Snark illustration by Henry Holiday and a painting by Matthias Grünewald as a comment to a tweet about an exhibit in the Musée Unterlinden. The painting is in a panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece which is exhibited in that Museum. They liked and retweeted the comparison.


I assume that Henry Holiday alluded to a printed low resolution reproduction of Grünewald’s painting. The image in the top of this page also has a relatively low resolution. You don’t see all the details as if your vision was blurred. That isn’t necessarily bad: When looking closer, the playful kitty softly and suddenly vanishes away. Fed with more detail, your brain probably will stop to try building a zoomorphic (or anthropomorphic in another case) picture from the whole scene. But you will discover a coat of arms which belongs to Guido Guersi de Delphinato, the preceptor who commissioned the altarpiece for the main altar of the Antonite Monastery near Colmar. See also heraldique_fr @ twitter (2018-06-20).

Then there are those two wood blocks in Grünewald’s painting. Holiday turned one of them into an standish desk ink well. Christian Wirth explains based on W.G. Sebald‘s Nach der Natur (London 1988; After Nature, 2002; see also The Guardian, 2002) the function of those blocks: They help to contain water supplied by the water gutter. (Wirth’s page is in German; search for “als Rinne” and “ausgehöhltes Holz”.)

The Hunting of the Snark (1874-1876) by Lewis Carroll: While ‘The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits’, a ‘nonsense’ poem by Carroll which follows a crew of ten as they hunt the elusive snark, a creature which may turn out to be a dangerous Boojum, features no cats to speak of, blogger Goetz Kluge alerted me to a panel from ‘Fit the Fifth: The Beaver’s Lesson’ in Henry Holiday’s illustrations to the poem, which has not one but two kittens. On his blog and through his other publications, Kluge explores the poem’s hidden references and meanings, and especially the layers added to it by Holiday’s illustrations including a reference to Thomas Cranmer’s burning. Find his blog, and links to his writings here. Below is Holiday’s original illustration, kittens to the bottom left

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2017-09-13, updated: 2023-11-18

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