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Pourquoi les sceaux ? La sigillographie, nouvel enjeu de l’histoire de l’art

 | 
Jean-Luc Chassel
, 
Marc Gil Chassel

2. Conceptualisation de l’image sigillaire

Ie su sel nul tel: no seal like it?

John Cherry

Texte intégral

1Seals are normally associated with identification and the status and legal importance of the person using it. The name and iconography of the person represented – the King ruling, the Knight riding, or the Bishop blessing, or the craftsman working – all indicate their status. This article concentrates on one type of seal, possibly used mainly for letters, which usually has a non-personal inscription and concentrates on representing strange scenes which do not in any way conform to such associations.

  • 1 The National Archives (TNA), E329/16. See Roger H. Ellis, Catalogue of Seals in the Public Record O (...)

2For instance, the seal of Walter de Grendon (ill. 1) shows a man accompanied by a dog carrying thorns, all within a large crescent, and the legend reads Cur spinas Phebo gero/te Waltere docebo, meaning “I (the man in the seal) will teach you, Walter,/ why I am carrying thorns from Phoebus”. Although it appears to be an impersonal seal, the legend is addressed to Walter, who we know from the document was Walter of Grendon, who, in 1335, issued this charter, granting land in Kyngeston. It is memorable because the action is impossible. There may be a subtle reference to Ovid moralisé, where Phoebus warns Daphne of the thorns1.

  • 2 TNA, DL25/1684.

3A second seal (ill. 2) provides another impossible action but in a different sense. The legend is “Hasard thine hod is min”. The central scene shows a hound and a hare gambling, raising their paws in the air, in a high five wave, as one challenges the other to gamble his hood which the other will win. It is attached to an undated chirograph granting land to Hugh le Helter and Adam Chapman by Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex2.

4To try to understand such impersonal seals, I will concentrate on the French legend “Ie su sel nul tel”, meaning “I am a seal like none other”, and explore the origins, use and significance of the associated images.

  • 3 The seal (diameter 23 mm) was found in 1800 in the garden of William Camley, at Alford, Lincolnshir (...)

5The legend occurs on at least ten seals in England, listed in the Appendix. An example of this legend has not been found outside England, although they probably exist. The clearest example, found in 1800 in Lincolnshire, has the legend in Latin sigillvm nvllvm tale, and shows a concert of animals making music-two rabbits, a bird in a tree and a fox around the tree (ill. 3). Perhaps this impossible scene represents the disorderly nature of medieval music3.

  • 4 R. Linenthal and W. Noel, Medieval seal matrices in the Scheyen collection, Oslo: Hermes, 2004, no (...)
  • 5 P.D.A. Harvey, “Seals and the dating of documents”, in M. Gervers (ed.), Dating Undated Medieval Ch (...)

6It is the only example in Latin. Otherwise the inscription is in French or Anglo-Norman, but never in English. The images associated with the inscription, apart from music making, are a dragon, often looking backwards (ill. 4)4, a grotesque animal, human-animal hybrids, such as a beast with a human head (ill. 5), a squirrel, or a bird with a human head (ill. 6). It may be that such seals with this particular inscription were produced in quite a short period. Three seals with this inscription that can be dated by attached documents to 1313, 1326 and 1329. Paul Harvey has observed that one late medieval design, a single initial with a crown above, may date quite closely to the 1360s and 1370s5.

  • 6 Appendix 1, no 5. C. Hunter Blair, “Durham seals V”, p. 252, no B2538.

7There may well have been fashions, either temporal or local, in the use of these seals, and only a systematic survey of all seals and seal matrices will be able to reveal a fuller picture. The only closely dated seal with the inscription ie su sel nul tel was used by John Vescy of Gateshead in 1326. It shows a grotesque head6.

  • 7 Bernard Fitzhugh’s matrix is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. There is a plaster cast in Society of (...)

8Seals with extraordinary and composite animals are not confined to this legend however. They occur on personal seals, such as the matrix of Bernard FitzHugh (ill. 7) and on privy seals with the inscription “prive su” or with other impersonal legends such as “Veit ce merveille”, or “Ie sui deguyse”7.

  • 8 Linenthal and Noel, Scheyen collection, no 291.

9French or Anglo Norman is the language of choice. Some French inscriptions have parallels in English or Latin, and the use of language on such inscriptions deserves further study. There is only one use of English for this type in “I was a man”, perhaps referring to some Ovidian Metamorphosis8.

10Do such seals develop from Romanesque seals and sculpture, the exploration of the unknown world, marginal illumination in manuscripts or classical prototypes?

1. Romanesque art and sculpture

  • 9 J. Baltruisatis, Le Moyen Âge fantastique, Paris, 1955. N. Kenaan-Kadar, Marginal Sculpture in Medi (...)

11Sculpture with strange beasts is quite common in Romanesque period. The subject was extensively studied by Jurgis Baltruisatis and, in France, by Nurith Kenaan Kadar9.

  • 10 Sir Christopher’s Hatton’s Book of Seals, ed. L.C. Lloyd and D.M. Stenton, Oxford, 1950, no 407, p. (...)

12Seals with composite beasts occur in the twelfth century. On the seal of Richard Basset, a knight in full chain armour, pointed helmet and long kite-shaped shield, strikes with his sword a griffin, standing before him with a naked man in his jaw10. Seals with centaurs occur in the twelfth century. The seal of Adam of Burestone found in excavations in Dublin is an example.

  • 11 BL, Add Ch 20,561. William Fossard used his seal (45 mm diameter) by 1162. G.F. Warner and H.J. Ell (...)

13The earliest secular use of a hybrid figure appears to be on the twelfth-century seal of William Fossard (ill. 8). This seal shows the upper part of a man’s body with a horned head looking backward, with a sword in the right hand and a shield on the left, set on the body of a bird with two different legs, one of a bird and the other of a horse. William was an important knight and a substantial patron of monasticism in Yorkshire11.

2. The exploration of the unknown world

  • 12 Linenthal and Noel, Schøyen collection, no 297 (lel). The seal recorded by David Williams in this d (...)

14The legend “Veit ci merveille” (“Look at this marvel”) with a humanheaded dragon occurs on this shield-shaped matrix found in Surrey (ill. 9), recalls the exploration of the unknown world such as Marco Polo’s Le Livre de Merveilles concerning his travels, or supposed travels, in the east in the late thirteenth century. The transmission of the idea of the monstrous races known as the marvels of the east from the classical world of Herodotus and Ktesias into the Middle Ages of Western Europe has been studied by Rudolf Wittkower. Here they became incorporated into the bestiary tradition12.

3. Marginal illumination in manuscripts

  • 13 L.M.C. Randall, Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts, Berkeley, 1966, L.F. Sandler, Gothic M (...)

15There has been extensive discussion of the use of hybrids and grotesque figures in marginalia of medieval illuminated manuscripts by Lillian Randall, Lucy Freeman Sandler and Michael Camille. There are at least two areas on which seals and the manuscripts overlap – the hunting hare, and the monkey13.

Hare

  • 14 Linenthal and Noel, Schøyen collection, no 175-8. A.B. Tonnochy, Catalogue of British Seal-Dies in (...)

16The best known example of the world turned upside down on English seals is the hare hunting astride the hound, a scene which also occurs on tiles and misericords. On seals the motif is accompanied different inscriptions. “Soho”, a hunting cry, is the most common (ill. 10). It is occasionally repeated as was the hunting cry – “Soho Soho”. Sometimes the cry is found with a name such as “Folkeli”, “Malot”, “Robe”, “Robin” (ill. 10), which may be the names for the hare or hound. It is a type that is well known in matrices. Tonnochy includes five, including “Soho Fokeli”14.

  • 15 C.H. Blair, “Durham Seals V”, Archaeologia Aeliana, 3rd series, 11, 1914. They are numbers 912 (132 (...)

17Another popular inscription is “Alone I ride a revere” or “I ride alone a revere”. Legends with this image are always in English. In the series of Durham seals, hare on hound images may be dated quite closely to 1312 to 132915.

  • 16 Randall, op. cit. in note 13.

18The use of marginal figures on English manuscripts began in the second half of the thirteenth century and flourished in the first half of the fourteenth, exactly the same period as many of these seals. The exact relationship, if any, of seals with manuscripts has still to be determined. In Lillian Randall’s survey, the closest comparisons are two illustrations of hares riding on dogs which are assigned not to England but to the Franco-Flemish area16.

Monkey

  • 17 A.B. Tonnochy, Catalogue of British Seal-dies in the British Museum, London, 1954, no 757 and 758. (...)
  • 18 Bonnie Young, “The Monkeys and the Peddler”, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, June 1968, p. 441 (...)

19Monkeys and apes appear in both illuminated manuscripts and seals (ill. 11). Indeed the word “Babewynerie” was often used to indicate marginal decoration on manuscripts. The most extraordinary use of the monkey on a seal is perhaps that of Guy de Munois, who commissioned a seal with an ape, attired as an abbot, encircled by the inscription “Abbe de singe air main d’os serre” referring to his position as abbot of St Germain d’Auxerre (1285-1309) and neatly combining visual and verbal punning. In England seals depicting monkeys occur in the early fourteenth century. They have a range of legends, such as “Keyl”, or “Heyla peyla” (ill. 12). For instance the seal used by John Punchard in 1312 has a monkey holding a nut in his left hand and scratching his back with his right, and the legend “Heyl, heyl, heyl”17. The interest of the ape or monkey is that it was used by the on silver and enamelled cups as well as on these minor seals, a use that has been discussed by Bonnie Young18.

  • 19 G. Demay, Inventaire des sceaux de la Normandie, Paris, 1881, p. 107, no 1022.

20They are also a motif that occurs in France. The seal of Guillaume le Fruitier has a seal showing a monkey suspended by an arm to a branch19.

4. Roman sources

  • 20 For the use of combination gems see M. Henig, A Corpus of Roman engraved gemstones from British Sit (...)

21The Romanesque and Gothic hybrids or grotesques on seals may have been derived from those classical gems which show hybrids, or grylli, as they are known in their classical context. There is evidence in Henig’s survey of Roman gems found on British sites for their use in England in the Roman period. There was certainly an amuletic value placed on grylli in the classical world, and it may be that this was carried over into the medieval use20.

  • 21 Henig, no 382, and no M23, pl. XXIII.
  • 22 Durham seals X”, p. 281-290. p. 280, no 3220.

22Some classical gems were copied in the Middle Ages and set as seals. From Scarthro, Lincolnshire (ill. 13), there is a medieval imitation, dated c. 1330, of a Roman hippalectryon gem with the legend + scriptv(m) signat eqvvs mittitv(r) q’evehit ales (“The horse signs the letter, the bird is sent and spreads it abroad”), a sentiment doubtless meant to add to the sense of mystery21. Classical gems with composite animals appear to have been used by Bishops as private and counterseals. Roger of Pont l’Evêque, Archbishop of York, used a gryllus between 1154 and 118122. While classical gems may provide a source for animals such as the centaur and the griffin, hares and monkeys shown on the medieval seals do not appear in such classical sources. Perhaps these seals are merely poor mans imitations of classical intaglios.

Conclusion

23Why do such extraordinary creatures, seen as liminal and on the edge by Michael Camille, in his analysis of the images in the Luttrell Psalter of the 1330s, serve as the central features in the serious seal, whose purpose was to represent the legal persona of the sigillant? Such impersonal seals may have been sold at market stalls, rather than commissioned through metalworkers. If so, the inscription advertising their unique quality - “There is no seal like it”-would seem to be misplaced.

  • 23 R.B. Pugh (ed.), Calendar of Antrobus Deeds before 1625, 1947 (Wiltshire Archaelogical and Natural (...)

24Some of these seals were used initially for chirographs, documents where the two halves were cut and could be brought together to assure authenticity. Possibly in such cases the lord supplied the seal to a granter who had no seal. The fact that one of the seals with the legend “Ie su sel nul tel” is from a chirograph of the Bohun family, whose manuscripts were notable for the use of marginalia, might lend some support to this. On the other hand the account of different types of conveyancing documents by R. B. Pugh gives no indication of special sealing arrangements for chirographs23.

25It may be that they were used as memory markers rather than anything else. Mary Carruthers has shown how extraordinary figures were used be orators to stimulate the memory. Just as an extraordinary animal could be used to mark a place in a Psalter, so an extraordinary seal could be used to mark and memorise agreements, grants or correspondence. Quite literally there was no seal like it.

Annexes

Appendix

The French or Anglo Norman examples of seals with the inscription “Ie su sel nul tel” are:

1. ie su sel nul tel – The design shows a grotesque (bird with one wing open, with a bearded man’s head?) walking to right. 16 mm diameter. Dated July 17, 1318. Sealed at Pleshey, Essex, and concerned property in Great Baddow, Essex. The seal was used by Edmund son of Richard Baddow – TNA, Duchy of Lancaster Ancient deeds, DL25/1913; Harvey and McGuinness, A guide to British medieval seals, op. cit.

2. iesu sel nul tel – This is the armorial seal of John Rose. The legend is read by Roger Ellis as iesuselmutet. It is dated 1339-Design in R. Ellis, Catalogue of Seals in the Public Record Office: Personal Seals, op. cit., P667.

3. *iesuselnutel (?) – The design is a grotesque formed of a two-legged figure with a bearded man’s head and a forked tail. 17 mm. Dated 6 March 1326. It was used by Muriel wife of William Mark and conveyed property on Margaret Roding and White Roding Essex – TNA, DL 25/1383.

4. ie sui sel nul tel – The design is with a squirrel with human head – Linenthal and Noel, Schøyen collection, op. cit, 2004, 295.

5. ie suy sel nul tel-The design is a grotesque beast. 20 mm. Used by John Vescy of Gateshead, in 1326 – “Durham seals”, B2538.

6. ie suy nul tel – This shows a grotesque (bird with a deer’s head and forked tail) walking to right. 16 mm. Dated 26 March 1313 or 12 June 1314. Brown wax. Sealed at Sutton, Lincolnshire, and concerns property in Sutton. The seal was presumably used by John, son of Ranulf Rye (de Ry), knight (i.e. Ranulf), rector of Gosberton-TNA, DL 25/2420.

7. + ie su sel nul tel – The design has a dragon in centre. Seal matrix drawn in Way volume of loose seal drawings. Found about 1760 in a garden near Reading – Gentlemans Magazine, May 1791, 403, print published same volume, fig. 7, pl. opp. p. 401.

8. + ie su sel eusel – The design has an owl’s head, wings in different directions, and flat feet. Seal matrix drawn in Way drawings of a brass matrix found in a church yard at Seaton, Rutland – Gentlemans Magazine, December 1825, 498, and pl. II, opp. p. 497, n° 16.

9. * iesue/elnut – A monkey climbing to left. Billingsgate-B. Spencer, “Medieval Seal dies recently found at London”, Antiquaries Journal, lxiv, 1984, p. 380-381, n° 21.

10. [.]sl(?)v(?)[…] ben […] n(?)[…] – It shows a grotesque (two-legged with an animal’s head and, below the tail, a bearded man’s head) walking to right. 15 mm. It was used by Amice, wife of William le Parker of Baddow, and conveyed property in Baddow, Essex-TNA, DL/1915.

Illustrations

Ill. 1 - Seal of Walter of Grendon (1335)
London, TNA, E329/16

Ill. 2 - Seal attached to a chirograph granting land in Essex
London, TNA, DL25/1684

Ill. 3 - Drawing of seal with concert of animals and legend «Sigillum nullum tale»
London, Society of Antiquaries, John Gough Nichols Seal Collection, Box 2 (Red)

Ill. 4 - Seal with dragon and legend «Ie suy sel nul tel»
London, Schøyen Collection, 280

Ill. 5 - Beast with a human head and legend «Ie su sel nul tel»
Oslo, Schøyen Collection, 295

Ill. 6 - Seal showing bird with human head
London, TNA, DL25/1383

Ill. 7 - Plastercast of seal-matrix of Bernard Fitzhugh.
London, Society of Antiquaries

Ill. 8 - Seal of William Fossard (twelfth-century)
London, BL, Add Ch 20, 561

Ill. 9 - Seal with human-headed beast and legend «Veit ci mervail». Matrix found in Surrey
Draising David Williams

Ill. 10 - Seal with hare hunting
Oslo, Schøyen Collection, 175-8.

Ill. 11 - Seal with monkey
Oslo, Schøyen Collection, 46.

Ill. 12 - Seal-Matrix with hybrid carved in intaglio (c. 1330)
From Scarthro, Lincolnshire

Ill. 13 - Seal with monkey and legend « Heyla peyla »
London, British Museum, Tonnochy 758.

Notes

1 The National Archives (TNA), E329/16. See Roger H. Ellis, Catalogue of Seals in the Public Record Office, London, 1978, 29, no P348.

2 TNA, DL25/1684.

3 The seal (diameter 23 mm) was found in 1800 in the garden of William Camley, at Alford, Lincolnshire, and the impression was communicated to Mr. Urban by R. Uvedale. The drawing is in the John Gough Nichols Seal Collection, Box 2 (Red), in the Society of Antiquaries of London. For music making see Jacques Le Goff, Moyen Âge: entre ordre et désordre, Paris 2004.

4 R. Linenthal and W. Noel, Medieval seal matrices in the Scheyen collection, Oslo: Hermes, 2004, no 280.

5 P.D.A. Harvey, “Seals and the dating of documents”, in M. Gervers (ed.), Dating Undated Medieval Charters, Woodbridge, 2000, p. 207-210, esp. 208-209.

6 Appendix 1, no 5. C. Hunter Blair, “Durham seals V”, p. 252, no B2538.

7 Bernard Fitzhugh’s matrix is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. There is a plaster cast in Society of Antiquaries, London.

8 Linenthal and Noel, Scheyen collection, no 291.

9 J. Baltruisatis, Le Moyen Âge fantastique, Paris, 1955. N. Kenaan-Kadar, Marginal Sculpture in Medieval France, Aldershot, 1995.

10 Sir Christopher’s Hatton’s Book of Seals, ed. L.C. Lloyd and D.M. Stenton, Oxford, 1950, no 407, p. 276, pl. III.

11 BL, Add Ch 20,561. William Fossard used his seal (45 mm diameter) by 1162. G.F. Warner and H.J. Ellis, Facsimiles of royal and other charters in the British Museum, London, 1903, no 46.

12 Linenthal and Noel, Schøyen collection, no 297 (lel). The seal recorded by David Williams in this drawing was found before 2000 at Folkington in Sussex (Williams personal communication). R. Wittkower, “Marvels of the East. A Study in the History of Monsters”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 5, 1942, p. 159-197.

13 L.M.C. Randall, Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts, Berkeley, 1966, L.F. Sandler, Gothic Manuscripts 1285-1385, London, 1986; L.F. Sandler, The Peterborough Psalter in Brussels and other Fenland manuscripts, London: Harvey Miller, 1974, and M. Camille, Image on the edge: margins of medieval art, London, 1992.

14 Linenthal and Noel, Schøyen collection, no 175-8. A.B. Tonnochy, Catalogue of British Seal-Dies in the British Museum, London: British Museum, 1952, no 749-753.753, has the legend “Sohou Fokeli”.

15 C.H. Blair, “Durham Seals V”, Archaeologia Aeliana, 3rd series, 11, 1914. They are numbers 912 (1329), 1121 (1312-7), 1219 (dated 1316-1323), 2523 (no date).

16 Randall, op. cit. in note 13.

17 A.B. Tonnochy, Catalogue of British Seal-dies in the British Museum, London, 1954, no 757 and 758. Linenthal and Noel, Schøyen collection, no 46. “Durham seals”, no DS 2036.

18 Bonnie Young, “The Monkeys and the Peddler”, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, June 1968, p. 441-454. The best survey is H. W. Janson, Apes and Ape lore in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, London: Warburg, 1952.

19 G. Demay, Inventaire des sceaux de la Normandie, Paris, 1881, p. 107, no 1022.

20 For the use of combination gems see M. Henig, A Corpus of Roman engraved gemstones from British Sites, (3rd edition), Oxford, 2007 (BAR series 8), chapter 8, 43-8.

21 Henig, no 382, and no M23, pl. XXIII.

22 Durham seals X”, p. 281-290. p. 280, no 3220.

23 R.B. Pugh (ed.), Calendar of Antrobus Deeds before 1625, 1947 (Wiltshire Archaelogical and Natural History Society Records Branch 3), xxxiv-liv.

Table des illustrations

Légende Ill. 1 - Seal of Walter of Grendon (1335)London, TNA, E329/16
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 132k
Légende Ill. 2 - Seal attached to a chirograph granting land in EssexLondon, TNA, DL25/1684
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Légende Ill. 3 - Drawing of seal with concert of animals and legend «Sigillum nullum tale»London, Society of Antiquaries, John Gough Nichols Seal Collection, Box 2 (Red)
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Légende Ill. 4 - Seal with dragon and legend «Ie suy sel nul tel»London, Schøyen Collection, 280
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Légende Ill. 5 - Beast with a human head and legend «Ie su sel nul tel»Oslo, Schøyen Collection, 295
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Légende Ill. 6 - Seal showing bird with human headLondon, TNA, DL25/1383
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Légende Ill. 7 - Plastercast of seal-matrix of Bernard Fitzhugh.London, Society of Antiquaries
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 124k
Légende Ill. 8 - Seal of William Fossard (twelfth-century)London, BL, Add Ch 20, 561
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Légende Ill. 9 - Seal with human-headed beast and legend «Veit ci mervail». Matrix found in SurreyDraising David Williams
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Légende Ill. 10 - Seal with hare huntingOslo, Schøyen Collection, 175-8.
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Légende Ill. 11 - Seal with monkeyOslo, Schøyen Collection, 46.
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k
Légende Ill. 12 - Seal-Matrix with hybrid carved in intaglio (c. 1330)From Scarthro, Lincolnshire
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 120k
Légende Ill. 13 - Seal with monkey and legend « Heyla peyla »London, British Museum, Tonnochy 758.
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/2884/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 277k

Auteur

Ancien conservateur au British Museum pour les collections de l’Europe médiévale et moderne. Spécialiste d’art et d’archéologie du Moyen Âge, il a publié de nombreuses études sur les joyaux, l’orfèvrerie, les sceaux et matrices de sceaux, dont, récemment, « Heads, Arms and Badges : Royal Representation on Seals », in N. Adams, J. Cherry & J. Robinson (eds), Good Impressions. Image and Authority in Medieval Seals (London, 2008), and « Personal and impersonal impressions : identity revealed through seals », in A Decade of Discovery (BAR British Series 520, 2010), The Holy Thorn Reliquary (London, 2010).

© Publications de l’Institut de recherches historiques du Septentrion, 2011

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540