Blood on the butcher’s knife

Blood on the butcher’s knife, In Blood Matters: Blood in European Literature and Thought, 1400-1700, ed. Bonnie Lander Johnson and Eleanor Decamp (forthcoming, submitted for review at press).

The late medieval period has complex and contradictory developments in the thinking about animal blood from butchery. It is both a potential pollutant to watercourses and soil, as well as a valuable ingredient in food for human consumption as blood pudding. It is a practical necessity, but also infused with spiritual meaning. During the late medieval period, there is shift in the way images of butchery are portrayed, particularly images for the month of December in calendars. They change from relatively sanitised images of a man with raised axe over a pig’s head to scenes of blood-letting practices on freshly-killed pigs to extract the desired blood. This paper explores the acceptability and desirability of these blood-soaked butchery images in the late medieval period within the context of the calendar image as both devotional and practical. While the use of the raised axe scene continues in the later period in some manuscripts, the focus on the blood in many of the images is all together new. What are we to make of this new-found emphasis on blood in the pig slaughter?

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