Wild Men and Moors
Linen and Wool Slit Tapestry
Germany (c. 1431)
100 x 490 cm
In this Medieval German tapestry, the Wild Men of the forest attack the castle stronghold of Moors, whose king and queen look on as the soldiers defend it. It is an interesting reversal of “light=good, dark=bad” symbolism that many are familiar with from a great deal of Fantasy fiction, although this kind of coded language rarely was considered relevant to skin color until the 18th and 19th centuries.
As an example of how deeply this kind of coded language is entrenched, read the following passages from a website depicting this tapestry:
On the left, armed with sticks and stones and clubs and fronds, five tall wild men attack a castle filled with wicked little blackamoors. It seems a clear-cut case of White vs. Black, of Good vs. Evil. Two long-robed black defenders, one beside the moat and one on the drawbridge, draw their long bows to shoot down the attackers.
Though the lion and the unicorn often stood for Good (for Courage and Chastity, respectively), here they are seen, along with the basilisk and the Moors, as symbols of Evil, defeated by the wild men as agents of Good.
Despite the obvious fact that these Wild Men are shown slaughtering animals that symbolize good, like the lion and unicorn, and are shown returning to their forest and presenting morsels of human flesh to a woman in the woods, somehow this commenter still has to believe that the Moors in their fortified castle town are still somehow representing “Evil”, while the whiteness of the Wild Men is “proof” that they must somehow be “Good”.
In fact, Medieval Wild Men or Wodewose in Old English, are almost always a force of Otherness, Savagery, and Wickedness.