My 1st Snark Hunting Trophy

On the left side of this comparison you see one of the nine illustrations by Henry Holiday to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (1876). On the right side is an illustration by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, the Allegory of Iconoclasts (aka The Image Breakers, around 1567). In the “mouth” of Gheeraerts’ “head” a praying priest is depicted. The shape of the priest also is visible in the “mouth” of Holiday’s vanishing “Baker”.

This is not plagiarism. This is a puzzle in a picture similar to puzzles in textual artwork (poetry, novels, Tom Stoppard’s dramas etc.), where readers are challenged to detect references to other writers. Holiday may have used the shape of the priest in his own illustration in order to indicate to the beholder a relation to Gheeraerts’ illustration. Holiday also used other elements from Gheeraerts’ etching in his own work.

I had my first encounter with The Hunting of the Snark in 2005. The finding in December 2008 was incidental. I searched for “Hidden Faces” in the Wikipedia. I wanted to see whether an illustration by Henry Holiday to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark was mentioned there. But instead of that I found Gheeraert’s print in the Wikipedia article on hidden faces. And then I noticed a that little rhombic pattern (the arms of a priest in Gheeraerts’ print) in the “mouths” of the “heads” depicted in both illustrations. The Snark hunt had begun.

Henry Holiday and Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder both may have referred to the Hell Mouth (Simon Marmion, Flemish, active 1450 – 1489; David Aubert, Flemish, active 1453 – 1479). But if you look carefully at Holiday’s preparatoty graph, it seems to be more obvious that he referred to to Gheeraert’s print:


  • Why did it take more that 130 years until someone discovered Henry Holiday’s allusion game? The answer is simple: Since The Hunting of the Snark was published, it took about 120 years until a new kind of museum was ready in which anybody could make that incidental discovery easily: My thanks go to all the people who turned the World Wide Web into a huge art gallery.
  • The comparison which you see at the top of this page was the beginning of my Snark hunt in December 2008. Then I was not sure about that finding, but thanks to Mahendra Singh‘s and John Tufail‘s encouragement I went on.
  • On January 2009, less than two months after my first finding, I collected my findings into a PDF file. The blue areas on page 2 show how I went into the wrong direction. But both elements are pictorial references, however, to other sources than I thought. Even today there are some of my findings which might be too much of a stretch.


related post | hell mouth | findings of 2009-01-27


2017-09-11, update: 2022-01-30

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