Humor, including scatological humor, plays a major role in the visual arts of the Middle Ages. Serious subjects are often surrounded by playful or fantastic embellishments. The main illumination on this folio from a book of canon (church) law illustrates the specifics of case 22: a bishop has sworn a false oath and now his archdeacon refuses to obey him. The archdeacon gives testimony before the seated pope who will decide whether the archdeacon has the right to disobey a superior. The artist pokes fun at the pope by placing an animal-headed creature dressed in a similarly shaped tiara in the margin. The orderly world under law depicted within the main illumination is thus contrasted with the irrational world that lies outside those borders.
Artist French
Title
  • Leaf from Gratian's DECRETUM: Bishop Swearing Falsely
Date early 14th century
Medium ink, tempera and gold on parchment
Dimensions Sheet (irregular): 17 1/4 × 11 3/8 inches (43.8 × 28.9 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, General Endowment Fund
Accession Number 61.248.A
Department Prints, Drawings & Photographs
Not On View
by 1961, (Adolph Loewi, Los Angeles, California, USA);
1961-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Bilotta, M. A. "Un manuscrit de droit canonique toulousain reconstitué: le Décret de Gratien." Art de l'enluminure, 24 (2008): pp. 6, 13, 48; repro pp. 11 (detail), 48 (detail of column miniature), 49 (cropped on right) (whole article pp. 2-65; from Toulouse, first decades of 14th century).

Melnikas, A. Corpus of the Miniatures in the Manuscripts of Decretum Gratiani. Rome, 1975, vol. 2, p. 700 (fig. 26).

Schwartz, N., and Withers, J. "A Page from a Medieval Manuscript." Bulletin of the DIA 42, no. 2 (1962-63): p. 27 (as Northern French, possibly Picardy / Artois, with standardized glosses written by Bartolomeo of Brescia)