In a bizarre episode of Vox Almanac, Vox editor Phil Edwards investigates why fearless knights in shining armor were often shown fighting snails in medieval artwork.
Medieval snails and knights — who knew? It turns out that medieval illuminated manuscripts featured a lot of bizarre imagery in the margins, but this pocket of art history might be one of the most intriguing.
Scholar Lilian Randall provides the best theory for the unusual motif: these medieval knights fought snails in the margins because snails represented the Lombards, who had become widely despised lenders throughout Europe. Snail was an insult and, over time, it became a type of meme detached from its original meaning.
Of course, like much of art history, this theory is just a theory. But it gives us an insight into the rich culture of marginal art and all the complexity, confusion, and amusement that sits on the side of the page.