Zoomorphic Initial, In Pseudo-Isidore's 'Papal Decrees' f.46v
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
In the middle of the 9th century, an author calling himself Isidore composed and published a series of forged papal decrees. His forgeries remained undiscovered for centuries, because he was clever enough to incorporate them into a collection of genuine decrees. This manuscript contains a copy of that partly-genuine and partly-forged collection; it was probably started in France (or by a French scribe working in England), but the text was finished and the decoration was added at Christ Church, Canterbury.
This initial 'O' combines several features found elsewhere in the artist's repertoire: fish, profile human heads, and religious motifs such as a cross. Use of these motifs to form capital letters has a long history in manuscript decoration in France, going back to the 7th century and the time of the Frankish kingdom before Charlemagne.