Medieval artwork can be beautiful to view, but they can also mysterious in meaning, with hidden messages. In the interesting British Medieval History (BMH: join here) I belong to, a recent picture of King John (above), allegedly hunting a stag in the illuminated manuscript De Rege Johanne (1167-1216), was posted with the query "Is this picture hiding something in plain site?".
Indeed! I believe it hides this message: King John was still and forever bitter about not receiving his pizzas.
My argument based on focused, in-depth exploration and a massive research undertaking that I started nearly 12 minutes ago.
The Story Behind The Picture
It is well known that Pope Innocent III fought with King John over various issues and King John ended up closing many churches, resulting in The Pope excommunicating the King. What is not well known, is that King John and Pope Innocent III were once bosom buddies and it was a game of cards that broke them apart.
They used to meet once a month to play their favorite game, a medieval version of Blackjack, or 21, as it is commonly known these days, and being highly competitive men, they liked to make wagers and fought hard to win. The prize was always the same: being connoisseurs of fine foods, the prize for the winner was having the loser's Head Cook make the night's meal. If King John lost, the Pope would savour Bangers and Mash from the Royal Kitchens that night, but if he won, there would be Coniglio salsiccia Pizza (rabbit sausage pizza; an Italian variation of Hasenpfeffer) on the menu. The Pope was sure to bring his personal chef from the Vatican in Italy, who travelled with him on these Cardo Blackjackiovaggio trips, as they were called.
History shows that after being caught cheating on 4 separate occasions but denying the allegations and flatly refusing to command his Chef to make the pizzas, the riff soon grew too wide to bear and the friendship ended abruptly. A feud ensued. King John tried to get the Pope ousted from the Vatican and Italy, and The Pope ended up tossing the King out of the church.
That is the hidden meaning behind the picture, and now that you know it...you can easily SEE it:
1) The 2 colors of the background representing "Anger (red) from Friendship (Blue)"; the 2 birds representing the flightiness of his former friend's Fairness (bird 1) and Trustworthiness (bird 2); the upraised hand, which is the universal sign of 'What the Hell?'; the dogs chasing the stag off the page representing The Dog (insult to the Pope) driving The Noble (himself) out of the framework of God's home...the Church. Then, the most obvious symbols, the 21 cards of the game, the 21st being round, signifying it's discordance: the cheating.
2) The 4 rounded holes with partial rabbits protruding out, signify the 4 Rabbit Sausage pizzas owed the King.
3a) The most subliminal message of the picture of all: the Pope Smackdown. If you take the shape of the King on his horse and turn it 90 degrees (or is that Fahrenheit?) you will see the subtle but defined insult to the Pope, which I will point out to you, in all its covert magnificence:
3b) The King's form representing his wish to boot the Pope out of Italy.
I hope this has enlightened you and encourages you to try and see more than what meets your eye.
Please do take into account that I have been imbibing in much Christmas Eggnog and some of the aforementioned facts may be a wee bit skewed. Take it with a grain of salt (a lemon and a shot of tequila) and enjoy your holiday festivities!