Book of Beasts

Book of Beasts

Salisbury (United Kindgom) — 1243–1260

One of the most beautiful bestiaries of the Middle Ages: impressive depictions of animals and fantastic mythical creatures on bright gold leaf

  1. Bestiaries are animal tales that allegorically associate the actual or assumed qualities of animals and mythical creatures with the Christian doctrine of salvation

  2. The bestiary from Oxford’s Bodleian Library is among the most beautiful of this beloved genre

  3. Numerous animals and fantasy creatures are presented with gold leaf, filigree ornaments, and initials

Book of Beasts

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Book of Beasts

The bestiary from Oxford’s Bodleian Library counts among the most beautiful of these beloved 12th and 13th century manuscripts. In 135 miniatures, numerous animals and fantasy creatures are presented. These are depicted untypically in gorgeous scenes and often even while interacting with people. Glimmering gold leaf, filigree ornamentations, and gorgeous initials round out the elegant and valuable impression of the Liber Bestiarum. An unknown master created this exceptional bestiary in the years 1243–1260 in Salisbury at the behest of the knight Roger de Mohaut.

Liber Bestiarum

The bestiary from Oxford’s Bodleian Library counts among the most beautiful of these beloved 12th and 13th century manuscripts. In 135 miniatures, numerous animals and fantasy creatures are presented. These are depicted untypically in gorgeous scenes and often even while interacting with people. Glimmering gold leaf, filigree ornamentations, and gorgeous initials round out the elegant and valuable impression of this manuscript. An unknown master created this exceptional bestiary in the years 1243–1260 in Salisbury at the behest of the knight Roger de Mohaut.

Not Merely a Simple Animal Book!

The manuscript with the shelf mark Bodley 764 of the Bodleian Library at Oxford is one of the great treasures of that library. The manuscript De animalibus is considered to be one of the most beautiful specimens of a medieval bestiary. These manuscripts were particularly widespread in England in the 12th and 13th century and enjoyed great popularity. With these bestiaries, it was not merely a matter of representing the animal kingdom in a zoological standard work of the Middle Ages, but were rather and above all concerned with the presentation of God’s creation – a religious aspect!

A Precious Commission

The Liber Bestiarum from Oxford is a 13th century work, made in Salisbury in the years 1243–1260. The patron of this manuscript was Roger de Mohaut, a noble knight. An indication of him can be found in the form an escutcheon in the miniature of the elephant. Additionally, the manuscript has other references to its later owners, Queen Isabella and her grandson, John of Gaunt, inter alia.

Gorgeous Natural Observations

The oxford bestiary collects 135 miniatures on 274 pages. Each is beautifully framed. The depictions of animals present mammals, birds, insects, fish, and fantastic creatures. The miniatures show, inter alia, a shaggy bear, who has caught something to eat, a gentle unicorn, an eagle, who sits in a burning eagle’s nest with broad wings, or a cat, who lurks toward a bird in a cage. In each case, an animal is depicted before a schematic background with floral decoration, stylized trees, and nature. Often times the animals are also depicted in their typical environment or even interacting with humans, an uncommon representation for a bestiary. This Liber Bestiarum is the work of a gifted miniaturist, who probably never saw some of the animals, e.g. the crocodile, with his own eyes, but was nonetheless able to give realistic images of them!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
De animalibus
Liber Bestiarum
Bodleian Bestiary
Size / Format
274 pages / 29.4 × 19.5 cm
Date
1243–1260
Style
Language
Script
Gothic Precissa
Illustrations
135 framed miniatures, including 4 full-pages, of animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, fish, fictitious) and scenes from the daily, with the original gold leaf reproduced in foiling
Content
An exceptionally embellished bestiary with moralizing texts
Previous Owners
Isabella of France, Queen of England (ca. 1295–1358)
John of Gaunt (1340–99)
Sir Thomas Bodley (1545–1613)

Available facsimile editions:
Liber Bestiarum – Ms Bodley 764 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom)
The Folio Society – London, 2008
Limited Edition: 1980 copies
Detail Picture

Book of Beasts

A Rat Saving Coins

Aside from containing powerful beasts like lions or creatures of fantasy like dragons, bestiaries also devoted space to animals as humble as the common rat. The negative association with rats that is common in western culture is largely due to their association with the 14th century plague that devastated Europe. However, images of rats saving coins were a common medieval metaphor for their stockpiling of food for the winter, not unlike the message of Aesop’s fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper”.

Liber Bestiarum
Single Page

Book of Beasts

The Aspidochelone

The legendary aspidochelone is alternatively depicted as a whale, turtle, or a sea monster with spikes on its back. No matter its form, it is so massive that it is mistaken for an island and thus entices unwitting sailors to land on its back, at which point it pulls them down into the depths of the ocean. In the bestiary tradition, it is a moralistic allegory for Satan, who deceives those whom he seeks to devour.

Before a glimmering gold leaf background imprinted with a pattern of diamonds and flowers, sailors have anchored their ship to the back of the aspidochelone, which is camouflaged by plants. A cook has started a fire “onshore” that the creature will soon feel, causing it to dive and drag its victims down with it.

Liber Bestiarum
Facsimile Editions

#1 Liber Bestiarum

The Folio Society – London, 2008
Liber Bestiarum – Ms Bodley 764 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom)
Liber Bestiarum – Ms Bodley 764 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: The Folio Society – London, 2008
Limited Edition: 1980 copies
Binding: Fine red goatskin leather with an image from the manuscript on the cover in full color and gold. Traditional binding with ribbon marker and pages with gilded adges.
Commentary: 1 volume (282 pages) by Christopher de Hamel and Richard Barber
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: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
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