The temptation of avarice. French edition of Ars Moriendi, 1465.
Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) was a book that appeared in many editions across medieval Europe. This image is from a block-book edition, i.e. the words and pictures were each carved on the same wooden blocks instead of the text being set in futuristic movable type. The demons appear to be tempting the man with visions of a new 1465 model executive horse, a nice hat, a big house with glass in the windows, and a wine cellar… though surely they’re too late if he’s on his death bed already? Step into my office, imps of Satan; your efficiency and the timeliness of your communications are severely lacking.
Seven hundred years on, this is looking a bit Muppety to me and reminding me of Labyrinth, especially the profoundly unscary demons. If David Bowie’s Goblin King get up of tights, codpiece and joke shop wig were shown here, that would be terrifying.
The Devil of Usury. From John Blaxton’s pamphlet against loan sharks, ‘The English Usurer’, printed by John Norton for Francis Bowman of Oxford, 1634.
“An Usurer (i.e. a person who lends money at an unreasonably high rate of interest and/or with unfair terms) is not tolerable in a well established Commonweale, but utterly to be rejected out of the company of men.”
Too bloody right. Four hundred years on, little has changed: payday loan companies, Lehman Brothers, toxic mortgage lending, fixing the LIBOR rates, bank executives getting huge bonuses at failed but state-bailed banks, etc. Note also the piggy bankers on the right, the top one saying “Mine is the Usurers defect. To root in earth, wallow in Mire” and the bottom one issuing the refrain we’ve also recently heard many contemporary versions of from bank CEOs, that they can’t and won’t be held accountable for the devastation they’ve caused with their greed: “Living spare me, and Dead spare me.”
PS: Beware, for after a long separation I have been reunited with my beloved library and this blog will most likely live up to its tagline like never before in the coming weeks as I explore it anew. Forthcoming… Japanese monsters, Cold War kitchen performances, telekinesis, Giorgio Moroder robot, a load of intensely nerdy vintage computer stuff, etc.