I don't know about you, but I always thought the Middle Ages were strictly about dying at age 30 and giant birds posing as doctors. But it turns out that Renaissance Fair jugglers were right -- people of medieval days were actually pretty funny. Like Spencer's novelty gifts funny. For proof, look no further than these hilarious artifacts they left us.
#5. Henry VIII's Horned Helmet
Konrad Seusenhofer, 1511-1514, Royal Armouries.
When you think of Henry VIII, you probably picture Dom DeLuise in a dress. It's a fair picture.
Turkey drumstick in one hand, lady parts in the other -- that's how we like our H8. But Henry didn't start out as a house-shaped humping machine. Before he lost the battle with tautness, Henry was as athletic and handsome as an NBA pool party. He wasn't just a monarch sitting on a throne; he ruled jousting tournaments and tennis courts and won Mr. Sexy Legs of 1525. Yet none of those endeavors explain this incredible ... thing:
If the Urkelbot made a baby with a mentally challenged goat, this is what you'd get.
Sometime around 1511, the Holy Roman Emperor commissioned master armor craftsman Konrad Seusenhofer to create this steampunk amalgamation of fear and awesome as a gift for young King Henry. This is real. You are not dreaming. King Henry VIII once wore the mask above in all seriousness, probably at court pageants and as a way to shock a male heir out of his wife's womb. It eventually worked. Probably because of those baby tombstones posing as teeth.
Imagine if you came across a guy whose smile revealed a tiny privacy fence where his teeth should be. Nothing is in its natural toothlike position, all the teeth have a Bobby Brownish gap between them, and they're uniformly distributed across a mouth that looks like it's been pinned open by invisible fat aunts on each side. That's who modeled for this mask. Or even worse, the artist was a blind man who never actually saw a real person in his life -- this is the closest facsimile to "human" he could come up with. Kind of like whoever made Lionel Richie's head in "Hello."
She'd later go on to be the lead designer of Chia Pets.
If you're not looking at the Chiclet teeth or the dookie horns, you're looking at those yellow glasses. Historians think that Henry was actually nearsighted, a theory supplemented by the fact that there were dozens of glasses in his possession after his death. Which leaves us with a very important question: What if these glasses are totally serious? What if the glasses are the one thing that actually looks like it belongs to Henry? It kind of changes everything.
Just looking at the mask, you're so overwhelmed by its audacity that it's hard to see the workmanship involved. The joints allowed for the visor to be removed, so experts think that there were multiple faces that could be attached. Maybe one of the other visors was a Groucho mask or a frowny face for when Henry was feeling serious. Or maybe they cut right to the chase and made it Flavor Flav.
Hourglass chain is optional.
There was also once a piece of lavender fabric that would have attached to the skull part of the helmet, just in case onlookers needed something else to fix their gaze on. One thing we do know is that this was only one piece of a whole armor set -- the rest is lost to history. But we can safely assume that it would have made the other half of a great Monty Python skit.
#4. Wound Man
Pretend you're a knight in the 16th century and you're about to go into battle. There are no guns, bombs, tanks or Agent Orange, so what's the worst that can happen?
"At least they left my junk alone."
That is A LOT OF STUFF. Medieval surgeons used illustrations like the one above to understand the different kinds of injuries they might encounter and treat on the battlefield/kitchen table. Not surprisingly, the injuries are mostly stab wounds. Until you look closer and discover that this poor soul is getting clonked with a turkey drumstick. Why are there turkey drumsticks on the battlefield? This is not a Thanksgiving food fight on a sitcom! (Or is it?)
Wound Man, as he's now known, also suffers from having stepped on a sharp branch, a chicken claw embedded in his thigh, getting hit with a smoking pipe and the historically misunderstood Tiny Hat syndrome. Oh, and he has most definitely had his wiener cut off. All of these things are horrible in their own right, but in the interest of comedy and the economy of paper, medieval artists chose to inflict all the injuries at once. Here's a more recent illustration:
"My junk! Noooooo!"
In all seriousness, we know that war injuries aren't funny, even when they include tasty poultry haunches. It's worth noting that there wasn't just one instance of a medieval author lumping every calamity he could find onto a woodcut illustration. There are multiple Wound Men! This 1517 Wound Man got hit in the head with a pie:
"Peach? Really? As if today wasn't bad enough."
There's also a jellyfish on his wrist and some kind of super-clam action going on behind his elbow. No wait, that's definitely a Venus' flytrap sneaking up from behind. Move, Wound Man! You're about to get got! Overall, this WM seems to be taking his injuries in stride, despite the fact that he's growing a patch of reverse skunk fur on his head. Maybe he's more relaxed because his thong is protecting his beeswax. (Or is it?)
#3. The Most Confusing Book of Revelation
Let's face it: Anyone who's illustrating the Bible's Book of Revelation is starting with the best material this side of Herman Cain's presidential candidacy. There are dragons, angels, seven-horned lambs, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and, of course, the Whore of Babylon. The only way it could get better would be if the trumpeted angels play the "Theme from Rocky" -- and we're not so sure they don't. In the hands of a skilled artist, the Book of Revelation can be imagined as either a horrific prophecy of what's to come or a beautiful parable of the Christian faith. In the hands of the unnamed illustrators of Spanish monk Beatus of Liebana's commentary on the apocalypse, the end times are Agog-town. No one knows what's going on, where they are or why this angel is wielding a key so lasciviously.
At least we hope that's a key.
And we really hope he's not fellating a bluebird.
If you could capture all those moments when Jim from The Office shrugs at the camera and medievalize them, this is what you'd get. Like when Angel Baffled uses a proto-chainsaw to cut off the seven heads of the beast, confusedly. He's probably just weirded out by the puppy dog tails coming out of their mouths.
No wait ... those are tongues. And the beast is definitely frenching a snake as onlookers do the robot in the illustration below:
Also confusing is when paddle-handed people bow down to worship what is clearly Mr. Bean in a fancy bathrobe:
Even the angels' wings look like question marks, as if they're asking us, "Are we doing this right?" "Is this how hands work?" "Should we be clapping? I feel like we should be clapping. Clap once if you think we should be clapping." Best of all is this illustration of Adam and Eve simultaneously doing No. 2 in the Garden of Eden. They're really embarrassed about it.
"So that's why he gave us the leaves."
You'd be embarrassed too if your arms were really legs sewn to your collarbone or if your butt was so big that it bubbled out sideways. And you know what else? We're not even 100 percent sure those are fig leaves.