Why a Butt Trumpet Playing Man and Other Unusual Images Appeared in Margins of Medieval Manuscripts

In an enlightening TED-Ed lesson written by Michelle Brown and animated by Wow-How Studios, narrator Adrian Dannatt explains how unusual illustrations, such as a man playing a butt trumpet, came to be so prevalent in so many of the illuminated manuscripts of medieval times. As it turns out, these deliberately obtuse drawings were meant to be interpreted as stories, parables, omens, and even political commentary, though which of these interpretations were ultimately up to the reader.

A rabbit attempts to play a church organ, while a knight fights a giant snail and a naked man blows a trumpet with his rear end. These bizarre images, painted with squirrel-hair brushes on vellum or parchment by monks, nuns, and urban craftspeople, populate the margins of the most prized books from the Middle Ages.