In a previous post, we discussed a linguistic puzzle that we encountered in our translation of Jalaleddin about the meaning of “blue” horses or “sky blue” horses, which in Armenian and English refer to “grey” or “light grey”, owing to the etymology of the word from Indo-Iranian. Relatedly, we also discovered (thanks to Nicholas Al-Jeloo) that the Syriac word for sky blue (sus-gawna) literally translates to “horse-color”.
Here is a painting of a “blue” stallion from the 17th century, attributed to Habiballah of Sava, probably from the region corresponding to modern Afghanistan.
It turns out that “blue” horses were commonly depicted in medieval manuscripts from Western Europe, with many of these blues being “grey-blues”, lending additional credence to the hypothesis “blue” is more commonly used to capture “grey” when portraying animals.
Here is an image from the 12th century psalter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, in modern France.
And this one is from a medieval bestiary from the 13th century, in modern England:
And if that wasn’t enough, we also have blue elephants from a 13th century manuscript in modern England:
And, from the same manuscript, here is a blue elephant and a blue horse at war:
We also found a blue horse with a white mane:
And last but not least a blue Pegasus, from another 13th century manuscript from present-day France:
But the “blue” – “grey” correspondence is not only limited to horses and elephants. There are also “blue” hounds, which are more brown, like the other ones in the image:
Besides these, many other blue animals are portrayed in medieval manuscripts, and not all of these probably correspond with grey. Blue could have other symbolic meanings that are not always clear, as in the case of these “blue” tigers in medieval bestiaries that apparently evade clear explanation. But maybe this 13th century illustrator thought there were grey tigers, like these Russian Blue cats, and could not consult his good friend Google to verify his beliefs. Or maybe the art was never really supposed to make sense, at least to our modern minds…