In a previous post, we discussed a linguistic puzzle that we encountered in our translation of Jalaleddin about the meaning of “blue” horses, which refers to “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 also commonly depicted in medieval manuscripts from Western Europe.
For example, here is an image from the 12th century psalter of Eleanor of Aquitaine (modern France).
And this one is from a medieval bestiary from the 13th century (modern England):
The same manuscript even has blue elephants:
And a blue elephant and a blue horse at war:
Another manuscript depicts a blue horse with a white mane:
And last but not least, another 13th century manuscript from modern France depicts a blue Pegasus:
But the blue->grey correspondence is not only limited to horses and elephants. There are also “blue” hounds, which are actually more brown than grey, like the other ones in the image:
In some of these cases, blue could have other symbolic meanings. For example, these blue tigers in medieval bestiaries apparently evade clear explanation… Maybe this 13th century illustrator thought there were grey tigers, like these Russian Blue cats, and decided to depict them as grey. After all, there was no possibility of running a quick Google search. Or maybe some art is never really supposed to make sense, at least to our modern minds…