Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Werewolf Painting of Poligny (Jura)

by KARL STEEL

Werewolf and monster scholarship loves to cite a painting of three werewolves holding knives, supposedly in (or once in) Poligny, in the Jura, in the Church of the Jacobins (i.e., a Dominican church). For example, see Collin de Plancy, Dictionnaire infernal, ou Recherches et anecdotes sur les démons (501, s.v. Michel Verdun); Charles Thuriet, Traditions populaires du Jura (66, and sorry for no Gallica or archive.org link); and more recently, well, this google search should work.

The ultimate source seems to be Henry Boguet's Discours exécrable des sorciers, 123, from 1603.


Here's an English translation, from Charlotte Otten's Lycanthropy Reader, 89:

And if anyone ask with what instrument witches, when appearing to be wolves, effect the death of those whom they kill, I shall answer that they have only too many contrivances for this purpose. For sometimes they use knives and swords, as did Perrenette Gandillon, who killed Benoist Bidel with his own knife, and therefore he who painted the three were-wolves of Poligny represented them as each carrying a knife in its right paw. 
Que si quelqu'un desire de sçavoir avec quel instrument les sorciers estans en apparence de loup dónent la mort aux personnes qu'ils tuent, je luy diray qu'ils n'ont que trop d'inventions pour cela: car quelquefois ils se servent de cousteaux, et de glaives, comme nous avons dict de Perrentte Gadillo, qui tua Benoist Bidel se son propre cousteau: et je tiens, que c'est la raison pour laquelle celuy qui a depeint trois loups garoux de Pouligny leur faict porter à chacun un cousteau en la patte dextre. (French very roughly edited by me, some early modern spellings preserved)
I've been trying to track down the painting. No luck. Poligy's tourist board says nothing about it, and no one on flickr gives me a picture. Nothing on Wikipédia either.

So! Conversation on the MEARCSTAPA listserv has been very helpful in leading me to believe that while the painting might once have existed, it may also just be lost. I'm inclined to think it's as legendary as the "lost" pig execution painting of Falaise, Normandy, well-known to animal trial scholars as the greatest artistic loss in human  (and porcine) history.

Have any of you ever seen it? Or seen it reproduced? Citoyens de Poligny, aidez-moi !

(h/t, merci bcp to Zachary Fisher for sending me towards the image above, which is from here, page 17, and case not of lyncanthropy but rather hypertrichosis)

13 comments:

Anne said...

Just a quick, excited, unresearched response, which is to start wondering about all of the "Saint-Loup" place names in the region (I recall some in not-so-far Switzerland as well). I hope that the citoyens de Polginy hear your call!

Karl Steel said...

moi aussi! There must be some regional folkloriste who's written on Saint-Loup. Adding this to the shambles in the back of my mind to research in some future project.

Jeb said...

You could try searching for Marie Angelique Memmie Le Blanc's stone knife at the same time.

Who knows it may be hidden in a late 17th century box along with the gold chain of a toad and sundry other lost items.

Jim said...

I couldn't find the painting either! But I did find this doing a quick search:
http://www.werewolves.com/the-werewolves-of-poligny/

Karl Steel said...

thanks Jeb -- such a rich story, that one.

Jim -- fun image, although disappointed to see these left out the knives! I wonder what their sources are? I'm *presuming* there's no earlier source than the Boguet.

Jeb said...

3 statues from the church at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Church went into state hands during the revolution and was sold in 1792. Library went at public auction at the same time. Claude Antoine Dubios bought the church. Some art work remained in the family.

The Museum would appear to have done some digging on the subject.
Worth checking in with them.

Karl Steel said...

jeb, thanks for the info. Presuming you don't mean the Metropolitan Museum here in New York but rather one in Poligny or its region?

Jeb said...

New York. Who knows you may find the empty frame!

I should note that the source you cite does not fit the pattern for legendary proof. It is as a rule scrupulously honest. The knife is always lost, the toad buried, the letter destroyed. You can sometimes however find the empty treasure chest.

Use by later researchers does fit the pattern perfectly.

Perhaps the object the writer is pointing at and he who painted it is not a physical object but something else he assumed the reader to be familiar with.

I have no idea other than note it does not fit the standard pattern.
Local folk record may throw up something.

Robert Schenck said...

I have nothing useful to add, but it's unfortunate that "cryptozoologists" don't do this sort of research, seems like this painting would've been something better for them to do that run around the woods being filmed in green 'night-vision'.

Andrea Schutz said...

As I understand it, most of the French St. Loup place names are named for one of the several St. Loups active in their respective regions in the early MA: one at least seems to have been a Germanic person, whose name was latinized into Lupus, and therefore his name and the places (and other Sts Loups) named after him have nothing to do with wolves at all. Several later saints were then named after this fellow, perhaps for the then natural association with wolves, but equally, perhaps not. Certainly, there is no discernible association with wolves in the legends told about them - if any. The Breton place names are even less connected with wolves originally - Brittany has been busily re-activating its associations with wolves and werewolves - it's good for tourism - but a lot of these derivations are ret-cons, if you will, and false etymologies: the lou element in the place names apparently actually reflects a Breton word for some body of water, I believe (Breton isn't one of my languages, but on analogy with Welsh, the word for wolf should be something like blaidd). The one exception is the Chambre aux Loups, which really does seem to have been inhabited by wolves at various times; the last wolf/wolves in Brittany was found and killed there, though I can't remember when, exactly.

Karl Steel said...

thanks Andrea! hugely helpful and learned comment

Andrea Schutz said...

Glad to help. I wish I could find my sources for you though.

Karl Steel said...

No worries. Maybe I can use this post to justify funding a research trip...