Sadism with the Marquis de Scroll

Disclaimer: This article is not safe for work. Or, you know, general wellbeing. We are, after all, discussing “the most impure tale that has ever been told since our world began.”

I’m going to let you in on a secret: I have a little thing for the Marquis de Sade.

And the neighbours thought that he was such a nice young boy…

Now, don’t take that the wrong way. I’m not into sadism, which got it’s name from the Marquis. I mean, props to you if you dig the whole pain/humiliation thing (and if you have a safe word!), but that just doesn’t do it for me. The reason I like the Marquis is because his work is so shocking. Sure, it’s decently written. Sure, it’s “transgressive,” whatever that means. But reading the Marquis de Sade is like watching “The Red Wedding”: you think everything’s just fine and dandy until BAM. Everything goes loco. I always find myself strangely satisfied after reading the Marquis, just like I found myself strangely satisfied after watching “The Red Wedding.” I find it absolutely fascinating. Or, you know, maybe I’m just suppressing things.

A couple of weeks ago my mother sent me an article from The Guardian. I don’t remember ever telling my mother about my soft spot for de Sade, so I guess she just thought that I needed a little sadism to brighten my day. I don’t know. Anyway, the article covered the recent sale of the original 1785 Marquis de Sade scroll of 120 Days of Sodom for €7 million to a French museum owner, who has even offered to hand it over to the Bibliothèque nationale in five years. This story is perfectly timed, as the 200th anniversary of the Marquis de Sade’s death is later this year.

But why should we care? What makes this 12-metre-long/11.5-centimetre-wide (parchment?) scroll so special is that the Marquis wrote it when he was imprisoned (for blasphemny, sodomy, and non-lethal poisoning) in the Bastille, in just 37 days. After the Storming of the Bastille, the Marquis believed that the scroll has been lost forever, but it was later found hidden in his old cell, untouched – or actively avoided – by looters. Although after the Marquis died in 1814 his son ordered that all his unpublished manuscripts be burned, the 120 Days scroll managed to escape this fiery fate and thus remains with us today If you want to know more about the custodial history of the scroll, this website has a super-condensed rundown.

We should be so grateful that this gem was spared. Even though the scroll is written in such small script that one needs a magnifying glass to read it comfortably, some passages scream out from the page:

She assured us that all his joy consisted in eating expelled ovulations and in lapping up miscarriages; he would be notified whenever a girl found herself in that case, he would rush to the house and swallow the embryo, half swooning with satisfaction.

Think what you want, but quite a few people are fighting to classify this scroll as a “national treasure” of France.

Maybe 200 years from now Kim Kardashian’s sex tape will be given “national treasure” status too.

Christmas Countdown: 15 More Sleeps!


Sloane 1977, folio 2 recto (the front-side of the 2nd leaf), early 14th century

As far as I know, this manuscript isn’t called anything special; it’s just called Sloane 1977, which is its shelfmark in the British Library. This book is actually three books put together, including pretty common works by Roger Frugard of Parma, Mattheus Platerius, and some other guy (name unknown). In short: while Sloane 1977 has some beautiful art, the book doesn’t seem to have as much historical significance as, say, Kells.

The image above includes the Annunciation (with a green-winged Gabriel!), the Visitation, and the Nativity. Because this whole Christmas Countdown series is focused on Nativity scenes, I’m only going to talk about that part of the picture.

Looking at this image, one can deduce pretty quickly that it’s French. How can one deduce this? Two things, right off the bat:

1. The use of red and blue. While red and blue were commonly used in manuscript illumination everywhere, the French often used it heavily, and prominently. I know I said I’d focus on the Nativity, but look at Mary in the first panel. Red dress. BLUE HALO. It really doesn’t get much more prominent than that.

2. The diaper pattern in the second panel (okay, just forget that I said I would only address the Nativity panel). According to the British Library, “a diaper pattern is a repetitive geometric pattern. Although used as early as the eleventh century, it often acted as a background in Gothic illumination. Some artists even seem to have specialized in diaper grounds.” Yes, diaper patterns were a Gothic staple, but French illustrators seemed to love them more than anyone else. Also, note that the diaper pattern in this image is blue. Coincidence? Not a chance.

So there you go. It’s a French image. Certainly there are other giveaways, but I only know so much about French manuscript illumination, and I only have so much time to research these things.

Now that I’ve touched on everything BUT the Nativity scene…

While Mary is neglecting her child (just kidding, Mary, you’re allowed to sleep after giving birth), the ox and the ass look like they’re discussing how best to get their hooves on Baby Jesus. And Joseph is just sitting there, watching it happen! Joseph, what are you doing?! Your child is about to be eaten by some blood-thirsty beasts. I’m sure you think that donkeys are all cute and fuzzy and timid, but they can be dangerous – just ask the former Mayor of Hollywood Park.