• Amanda C Vesty

Depictions of Wild Men in History

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

There are many depictions of the wild man or woodwose throughout history. Here we take a brief look at just a few extraordinary images.


In the Paris National Library, a picture of the "Wilde-Mändle Dance" (Manuscript 2646) can be found in the 4th volume of the chronicle written by De Brujes. The picture describes the "Wilde-Mändle Dance" in Paris in 1393 at the Hotel Saint Paul on the occasion of the third wedding of a lady-in-waiting of the Queen.

Detail of a miniature of the dance of the Wodewoses. Origin:Netherlands, S. (Bruges)

The image above is courtsey of the British Library database of illuminated manuscripts. The 'Bal des Ardents' from Froissart’s ‘Chroniques’, Southern Netherlands, c. 1470–72


In addition to various medieval paintings probably the best description of the "Wilde-Mändle-dance" or Wild Man Dance in the hunting and travel diary of the Prince-Bishop of Augsburg, Elector of Trier, Clemens Wenzeslaus, (Munich State Archives).

“...... gray past was able to hold. He brought the "Wild Mändle" from Oberstdorf to the court in Trier, to show the high-ranking guests the "Comedy of the 12 Wild Men" from Oberstdorf August 26, 1793.”

Miniature from the Smithfield Decretals, France (Toulouse?), c. 1300-c. 1340

Many documents prove the performances of the Wilde-Mändle-Dance at the various royal houses, eg 1515 before Henry VIII of England and 1393 at the court of Charles VI. in Paris, Pastor Christian Lehmann describes the wild man game in the Erzgebirge in 1615, this ends with the deadly hunt for the Wild Men.

Ghent-Bruges school miniature from a 15th century manuscript

I am finding the above image compelling because it entwines the image of what looks like a bear. See the furry arms with big claws. In the fifteenth century this image would have served to emphasise the bestiality of the #wildman or #woodwose. It speaks of demons at a time when they were depicted with combined animal features to make them appear even more demonic and 'evil'. I have been doing a lot of research around this so I must start uploading some of it!

Woodwose at Orford Suffolk

From South Tyrol there are reports from the 18th century of Wild man games in Marling near Meran, under Emperor Joseph. The "wild man game" that flourished in the Burggrafenamt and in the Vinschgau was banned. Burgeis in Vinschgau 1829, was apparently where the last wild man game was held.


Very vividly portrayed on a knotted tapestry from the beginning of the 16th century (Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg) is the robbery of a "wild woman" by a knight from the middle of a group of rough-haired people. (I was sure I had this image somewhere but now can't find it)


An older tapestry seen above, in the Wartburg Castle, dated according to the architecture depicted probably in the 13th century, describes the defence of a wild royal castle against enemy wild men. (Want to know more see my separate article here)

Wild Man Ewer 1500, Nuremberg, Franconia, Germany

The above fantastic finial comes from a ewer dating from the fifteenth century. (For more on this item see my post here.)


Early reports on wild men are also available from Switzerland and many other places, but far too many to list for the time being.


I hope you've enjoyed this brief look at the Wild Man or Woodwose.

Amanda x


PS My shop donates to Treespect so when you buy from me its a win for you and for the trees too. :-)