Русский текст - здесь:
Time is relative. Especially historical time and especially at our parts, in Eastern Europe, where it can happen without further ado that three hundred years between 600 and 900 are stolen from Hungarians, while at Russians world history starts right in the stolen 800 and in its framework Christ is crucified in 1200 A.D. – just some years after the Troian war – in Istanbul.
It is therefore no accident that it was precisely a Russian graphic artist sensitive of such relativity, Boris Indrikov to discover and translate into Russian from the only available copy of the May 2009 issue of the Scientific Archevelogy the article of Sandy Collins, in which she has reported about their sensational discovery made during the excavations around the Lower Normandian Château-Gaillard. The Russian translation was published just two days ago. Here we publish its short English summary which – we are sure – will reach those interested much sooner than the original English publication.
Château-Gaillard was the favorite castle of Richard the Lionheart (1188-1199) in Lower Normandy. It also received its present name when the king, beholding for the first time the castle built on his order with its shining white stone walls, double ramparts, pont-levis and thirteen strong towers, exclaimed: “Quel château gaillard” – “What a merry castle!” At least this is how Maurice Druon describes it in The prison of Château-Gaillard.
In May 2008, while excavating around the castle, the archaeologists of Bristol University made a surprising discovery. They have unearthed two graves side by side. In both of them they have found the rests of the body of an armored knight, and above it in one grave the well preserved skeleton of a horse, while in the other the fragments of iron objects which, seen from above, resembled… a bicycle.
The British scholars carefully cleaned the fragments,
they removed them,
and made inventory of them,
and they were shocked to see that it was in fact a bicycle, whose iron parts have remained in so good conditions because they had been covered with wax before being buried.
“When they called me from the excavations saying that they had found a 12th-century bicycle,” said Steve Berkeley, the engineer-constructor of Cambridge University’s Scientific and Technical Center of Cardiff who, together with his colleague Andrew Hopkins assembled the excavated parts, “I would have suspected that it was an All Fool’s Day hoax, were it not the excavation’s leader Professor John Williams himself to tell it. And as we were gradually assembling the surviving fragments, our admiration grew higher and higher for the unknown medieval constructor.”
But is this construction really medieval? The opinion of experts vary in this question.
“As an expert of medieval knights’ armor,” declared archaeologist professor Justin Pierre, the representative of the French Academy of Sciences at the excavations of Château-Gaillard, “I have to say that the alloy adopted, the methods of elaboration and the X-ray examination rather point to the 15th century, and more precisely to the working methods of the armorer’s workshops of Milan and Venice, primarily to those of the renowned Missaglia dynasty.”
Does this mean that the Middle Ages already knew bicycle?
“Bicycle is a much older invention in human civilization than one would think,” says Peter Godward, professor of the Department of History and Archaeology of Cardiff University. “The sensational discovery of Château-Gaillard only reinforces the earlier results of our university’s researchers. Already in 1962 the news spread all over the world that in the course of an archaeological excavation in Versailles a closed cellar was found, among other things with a bicycle from the reign of the Sun King inside.”
“The news made much noise and led to heated debates. Following the Versailles excavations, our university decided to establish an international research center for the thorough examination of the question. For several years we have been collecting data, consulted with archaeologists and collectors, and examined the collections and manuscripts of the greatest museums of the world.
Finally in 1986 we managed to get in contact with art collector Andrea Castilles, co-founder of the Sotbyes auction house, who in his younger years had been an enthusiastic cyclist himself. In 1951 he participated on the Giro d’Italia, and in 1955 on the Tour de France. In his world famous collection he has dedicated a special section to the objects of art connected with cyclism. He readily offered us to observe them. And what we have seen has exceeded our most daring imaginations.
Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) carried out between 1492 and 1500 his series of illustrations to Dante’s Divine comedy. One of his sketches to Canto XXXI of the Purgatory, preserved in the collection of Mr. Castilles represents the marvellous celestial pageant carrying Beatrice to Dante on a coach drawn by a griffin:
Thus they began their song and then
they took me to the griffin’s breast,
where Beatrice stood and faced us.
they took me to the griffin’s breast,
where Beatrice stood and faced us.
«Have a closer look to the figure greeting the pageant in the forefront,» Mr. Castilles said. «Can you see what is standing on his side?»
Then on his signal a massive, hermetically closed glass cage was carried in the room. The cage was constructed to protect a small panel painting. At a closer examination, the panel represented the same construction as the previous sketch.
«This is one of the least known images by Botticelli,» Mr. Castilles said. «The composition and the details are fully identical to his Portrait of Saint Augustine of 1495, thus he most probably painted the two pictures at the same time. The fact that this painting represents a female version of the bicycle, also links it to the chef d’oeuvre of the master, the Birth of Venus. Art historical research has pointed out that this Portrait of a Bicycle has not achieved much success in the life of the master. As far as it can be established, the contemporaries did not understand what it represented. It is also a mystery to me why Botticelli undertook this unusual task. Why did he represent the bicycle as a female version? And how is the Divine comedy connected with all that? Perhaps the bicycle is a symbol for Beatrice? You, scholars, you should find the answers for these questions.
The image was soon forgotten after the master’s death. It was preserved in the Berlin State Museum, from where it disappeared during WWII. Then through an interesting chance it got to me… but this is already a totally different story.»
Then Mr. Castilles asked us to accompany him to the exhibition room of his castle which was established on the second floor of the medieval tower with all the achievements of modern technology.
«Here you can see a minor image of Hans Holbein the Younger, the great Renaissance portraitist and court painter of Henry VIII,» he led us to a niche. «He painted it in 1540, in the same year as the famous portrait of Henry VIII preserved in the National Museum of Rome. They share a number of common details.…»
«And the same construction can be seen on an earlier sketch of Holbein. It is possible that on this the master represented the inventor himself. But this latter, judging from the gestures and looks of those standing around, was doomed to be not understood. New and unusual things were feared in every age and every period…»
Then a new miracle followed.
«This picture was painted by Jan van Eyck (1385-1441), the great master of early Flemish Renaissance,» pointed Mr. Castilles to another niche. «His Arnolfini Couple is known by everyone, but almost nobody knows about this masterpiece, painted in the same year.»
Mr. Castilles also told us that on the reverse of the Botticelli painting, during the X-ray examination of the Holbein picture and carved in the panel of that of Van Eyck the same design was found: a crowned lion on two wheels, looking at the sun and the moon. «What can it refer to? Perhaps to an Order of the Knights of the Bicycle?» We were amused by the idea, not knowing how close we were to truth.
«Bicycle is not only a vehicle of transport,» Mr. Castilles said to us at leaving, «but a form of artistic self-expression, a way of life and a Weltanschauung. Why did all these great masters dedicate a picture to the bicycle? As in the course of creation they all lived through the experience of unlimited freedom, this two-wheeled “freedom generator,” so wonderful in its simpleness, obviously deeply touched them. The bicycle as the way leading to the knowledge of the world and to freedom. You should also follow this way in your research.»”
But did the Order of the Knights of the Bicycle really exist?
“Our research center has collected a large amount of data since 1962, and on the basis of this today we can already assert with certainty that between the 12th and 15th centuries «the Order of the Sun and of the Moon» in fact existed in Europe. According to the sources, the knights of this order rode on «iron horses» and took part in the battles together with the traditional cavallery. Their swiftness, quick manoeuvring and the invulnerability of their «horses» posed a serious threat, while their unusual appearance, reminding of the horsemen of the Apocalpyse, had a paralysing effect on the enemy. They were able to cover very long roads, as they needed no food for their «horses.» Their late followers, for example the English Brighton Rifles set up in 1885 were a remarkable force in the Boer War of 1899-1902, and in the 20th century they were brought into service at every army of the world.
The first written record on the Knights of the Sun and of the Moon is found in a manuscript of the popular historical compilation The Deeds of the Romans from around 1230-40. The illumination of the manuscript represents a knight riding before the army on a construction very similar to a bicycle, and his shield shows the crowned lion standing on two wheels. This is also the first known representation of the coat of arms of the order.
We also find this pattern in the 14th-century Bellenville Manuscript which collects the coat of arms of the English king and of his vassalls.
And also in a 15th-century French book of coat of arms.
However, the full form of the coat of arms also includes the united figure of the sun and the moon, and two obligatory accessory figures holding the shield: a silver griffin and a silver lion, both standing on a wheel. The motto of the coat of arms, «IN VELOX LIBERTAS» can be translated in various ways: «Freedom in velocity,» «Velocity makes you free» or «Swiftly into freedom.»
(Note of the English translator to the inventions of the Latin motto author and of the Russian translator: Oh scholars of Latin, have mercy on us!)
The lion is a symbol of the Sun, of force and fire. The winged lion represents both force and swiftness. The griffin is also a solar and royal animal, the lord of the air.
The Sun and the Moon, these two wheels always turning on the sky, always following and never reaching each other, obviously refer to the members of the order who advance on their always turning wheels towards always greater freedom.
The winged lion can be found since the Renaissance in the coat of arms of Venice, while the united representation of the Sun and the Moon in that of Milan.”
But why just Venice and Milan?
“It is not by chance that the symbols of Venice and Milan figure in the coat of arms of the Knights of the Sun and of the Moon,” asserts Pierre Justin. “These two cities were the centers of armorership in 14th and 15th-century Europe, and the construction and details of the unearthed bicycle also reflects the technological methods of their masters.”
But the discovery of Château-Gaillard also had a further surprise in store.
Steve Berkeley and Andrew Hopkins, the engineer-constructors of Cambridge University’s Scientific and Technical Center assembling the excavated fragments have decided to build a working copy of the paleo-bicycle. In the structure of the vehicle they could follow the model of the findings. However, they had no model to its detailed elaboration. In the summer of 2008 they visited the great armor collections of Northern Italy, hoping to find inspiration in the products of the ancient masters of Milan and Venice, primarily of the Missaglia dynasty, but without any result.
At this time Peter Godward turned again to his old acquaintance, the eighty-two years old Andrea Castilles. And not in vain. Castilles had been since decades on good terms with a Northern Italian armorer whose ancestors already had been master blacksmiths in 9th-century Milan. He also purchased of him 14th and 15th-century drawings, and he could always rely on him in technical questions.
“As soon as I showed the photos to Giovanni Ferrelli,” recalled later Castilles, “he exclaimed with his eyes turned to the sky: «Santa Madonna! Impossibile!» And, struggling with tears, he started to take out various drawings from his secret family archive.”
The carefully kept drawings of the Missaglia dynasty displayed with full particulars all technical detail, surface finish, dimensions, ways of assembling, all provided with explanations, descriptions, even on the secrets of how to temper the metal… And every drawing had, besides the monogram of the Missaglia family, the crowned lion standing on two wheels.
Furthermore, Giovanni Ferrelli declared that it would be a honor for him to participate in the reconstruction of the vehicle. The team composed under his direction completed the work in six months. The dream of Steve Berkeley and Andrew Hopkins has come true. The result can be seen in the picture below. The work received the name “Richard the Lionheart” after the one time lord of Château-Gaillard, whose land has preserved to us for centuries the secret of the order.
Boris Indrikov, the original Russian translator of the articleContinuation: Ad astra
Velikie Veliki – www.indrikov.com/richard.html
Velikie Veliki – www.indrikov.com/richard.html