Serpent or Half-Serpent? Bernhard Richel’s Melusine and the Making of a Western European Icon

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This essay presents a much-needed exploration of the impact of the
woodcuts of the first German Melusine edition on the iconography of the larger,
Western European Mélusine tradition. Although the debt owed by printers of early German Melusine editions to Bernhard Richel’s editio princeps has been acknowledged, the influence of Richel’s images on the woodcuts of early editions printed in other languages—French, Castilian, Dutch, and English—as yet remains largely unexplored. By examining the impact of one of Richel’s woodcuts in particular—that depicting Melusine’s transformation into a half-serpent—this essay traces how Richel’s iconography came to play such an important role that his depiction of Melusine’s hybrid body eventually became one of her defining and most recognisable characteristics. In so doing, it reveals a number of interesting transcultural connections between early Mélusine printers and the clever image-recycling strategies they employed. This case study will also give us valuable insight into the production and illustration of early printed books, as the cross-cultural reuse and copying of prototype
images challenge modern ideas of coherence between text and image.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-41
Number of pages23
Issue number1
Early online date13 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016

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