Is Mélusine on your coffee cup?

If you search for the origins of the Starbucks logo online, you’ll find conflicting answers in many blog posts, but most seem to agree that the two-tailed woman is in fact the legendary heroine Mélusine.

starbucks history

The evolution of the Starbucks logo [customizedstickers.com]

But many of these posts get the story very wrong. People tend to want to trace the image back to a kind of ur-Mélusine, or the original, earliest version that embodies her intrinsic characteristics. But there is no such thing. Mélusine was a widespread legend, and the depiction of her chosen by the founders of Starbucks was only one of many. By the late medieval period Mélusine had become a kind of archetype and no longer just the individual character. The story was so widespread that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly which image is the original version.

The short answer is that the logo was based on a 16th-century image of Mélusine. By that time, iconographers had developed a habit of representing her with two tails rather than one, influenced by the sirens of Greek mythology, dangerous creatures who lured sailors to shipwreck on rocky shores. This practice can be traced back to the woodcuts used to illustrate the 16th-century German editions, whose iconography, by that time, was quite distinct from other versions (in French, Castilian, Dutch, and English). Thus, it is likely that the founders of Starbucks were inspired by an image that copies the two-tails motif found in these German woodcuts. This does not necessarily mean, though, that the image comes from a German edition, as there are a number of later editions in other languages (including Danish and Swedish) that copy the German images. Mélusine also starts to pop up in other stories and illustrations, making it even more difficult to trace the origins of the Starbucks mermaid.

Still, what can be said is that Mélusine’s story was incredibly popular by the late medieval period, and that the Starbucks logo shows us how she still captures people’s imaginations even today.

Read Mélusine’s story here.

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One thought on “Is Mélusine on your coffee cup?

  1. Pingback: Medieval Comics workshops at the British Library | Medieval Comics

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