Bestiary of John of Austria

Bestiary of John of Austria

Spain — 1570

Created for Juan de Austria, the victor of the naval battle of Lepanto: the only surviving medieval bestiary written in Spanish

  1. The only medieval bestiary written in Spanish was created for one of the greatest heroes of the 16th century

  2. Don Juan de Austria (1547–78) was the victor of the Battle of Lepanto (1571), defeating the Turkish fleet

  3. The exceptional manuscript was made for the illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V (1500–58) by Martin Villaverde

Bestiary of John of Austria

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Bestiary of John of Austria

Manuscripts with descriptions of the animal kingdom of the Middle Ages enjoyed great popularity since the 12th century at the latest. A special specimen of these so-called bestiaries is represented by the Bestiary of John of Austria, it is the only one of this type to be written in the Spanish language. Originating ca. 1570, it is closely linked with the name of the illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V, Don Juan d’Austria, who went down in history as the commander of the Spanish fleet, among others, in the Battle of Lepanto and as a governor general of the Netherlands. The wonderful illustrations of the sometimes-fantastical descriptions of animals and mythical creatures have not lost any of their allure for the beholder today.

Bestiary of John of Austria

Manuscripts with descriptions of the animal kingdom of the Middle Ages enjoyed great popularity since the 12th century at the latest. A special specimen of these so-called bestiaries is represented by the Bestiary of John of Austria, it is the only one of this type to be written in the Spanish language. Originating ca. 1570, it is closely linked with the name of the illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V, Don Juan d’Austria, who went down in history as the commander of the Spanish fleet, among others, in the Battle of Lepanto and as a governor general of the Netherlands. The wonderful illustrations of the sometimes-fantastical descriptions of animals and mythical creatures have not lost any of their allure for the beholder today.

Curious Creatures of the Animal Kingdom

The Bestiary of John of Austria was probably already an entertaining reading at the time of its creation. The compendium compiles a scientific lexicon on 484 pages of descriptions as well as moral or religious anecdotes of countless animal, human, and other creatures. The text is supplemented through the biblical depictions of the individually handled animals and creatures of wonder. Thus, bustling about in the Spanish bestiary among others are a faun with a dragon’s tail, poor people in snail shells, breasts or dogs heads as feet, or a person with feathers and wings. Naturally, alongside such curious and sometimes frightening mythical creatures, actual animals from the real world are described, should they be from local or exotic realms. Thus there are pages with water creatures and fish, mammals, and insects.

Great Names in History

The author of the text as well as the scribe and illustrator of the manuscript was the Spanish artist Martin Villaverde. With the Bestiary of John of Austria, he compiled the only bestiary in the Spanish language. Today it is found in the collection of the Monastery of Santa Maria de la Vid in Burgos. Nevertheless, its creation is closely linked with the name Don Juan de Austria (1547–1578). He was the illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500–58) with Barbara Blomberg, the daughter of a citizen of Regensburg. Unrecognized by his father during his life, he grew up unknowingly with Spanish “surrogate parents” and was first called to court by his half-brother King Philipp II after the death of Charles V. As commander of the Spanish fleet, among others, at the victorious Battle of Lepanto, and as the governor general of the Netherlands, the tragic life of Juan de Austria took another lucky turn.

A Unique Characteristic

The Bestiary of John of Austria distinguishes itself through expressively written text and exceptional full-page miniatures. These are only occasionally colored, some with the luminous green of the fields and trees. Otherwise, the black-white of the drawings appears and lends the pictorial depictions of animal and human creatures a particular liveliness. The beautiful exterior of the manuscript, the dark leather binding with two filigree clasps, already allows one to surmise the mysterious content of the Spanish bestiary. It is in no way inferior to its numerous predecessors from England and France, particularly from the 12th century, and can be regarded as a worthy predecessor of the genre which became popular in the 16th century. Furthermore, the unique position as the sole Spanish bestiary makes it something very special.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Bestiario de Don Juan de Austria
Bestiarium von Juan d'Austria
Origin
Spain
Date
1570
Language
Script
Humanistic cursive
Illustrations
370 miniatures
Content
Bestiarium
Artist / School
Previous Owners
John of Austria

Available facsimile editions:
Bestiary of John of Austria – Monasterio de Santa Maria de la Vid (Burgos, Spain)
Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 1998
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Detail Picture

Bestiary of John of Austria

Sea Monsters

A ship full of armed men rows through a blood-red sea full of horrific monsters – could this be a metaphor for the dangers faced by Christian sailors at the hands of the Turkish fleet that dominated the Mediterranean in the 16th century? Or perhaps these creatures resembling dragons and serpents are merely a metaphor for thalassophobia, the fear of deep bodies of water. What is certain is that medieval Europeans at the dawn of the Age of Exploration faced incredibly perilous and uncertain sea voyages.

Bestiario de Don Juan de Austria
Single Page

Bestiary of John of Austria

Patron Portrait

John of Austria was the illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Barbara Blomberg, the daughter of a burgher in the free imperial city of Regensburg. Shortly after his birth, he was taken from his mother to Spain where he was raised. His father’s will legitimized John and he was embraced by his brother King Philip II of Spain.

The greatest service performed by John for his brother and Christendom as a whole was at the Battle of Lepanto, where he commanded a fleet of the Holy League against that of the Ottoman Turks. It was the last major battle in the West to be fought entirely by rowed vessels, the largest naval battle since classical antiquity, and marked the highpoint of Ottoman military expansion in the Mediterranean.

Bestiario de Don Juan de Austria
Facsimile Editions

#1 Bestiario de Don Juan de Austria

Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 1998

Publisher: Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 1998
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Binding: Leather with two clasps
Commentary: 1 volume by Juan J. García Gil
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
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