Oxford Bestiary

Oxford Bestiary Facsimile Edition

Possibly Peterborough or Lincoln (United Kingdom) — Ca. 1210

A moral-religious perspective on nature and one of the most beautiful representatives of this genre: the famous Oxford Bestiary with its more than 130 golden pictures of wild animals and fantastic mythical creatures

  1. One of the most beautiful representatives of the bestiary

  2. This codex is filled with gilded representations of creatures that reflect their own view of nature

  3. The animals are often depicted in sketches that are far from naturalistic, but literary in character

Oxford Bestiary

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Oxford Bestiary

Jesus never stood face to face with an elephant, and a panther did not have horns in antiquity, but historical as well as zoological questions are not given much importance in the popular genre of the bestiary. At the beginning of this genre is the symbolizing nature interpretation of the Physiologus from Late Antiquity. A bestiary's special interest can be seen in the fact that fantasy animals are placed on an equal footing with the lifelike depiction of real animals. The point here is to transfer the mythical traits of animals in an allegorizing interpretation to Christ as well as to the Church or humans. Despite its sparkling imagination, this manuscript from the end of the 12th century is characterized by calm symmetries and fine ornamentation with often lovingly patterned backgrounds. This provides the reader with a holistic reading experience.

Oxford Bestiary

Bestiaries, illustrated books of animals, whose moralistic contents relate to selected biblical texts, were highly popular in the late 12th century. The Oxfordian Bestiary probably ranks among the finest examples of its kind. The magnificent codex, richly embellished with gold leaf, not only exceeds itself with its marvelous, luminous opaque color painting and clear depiction of animals, plants and human beings, but also in its predilection for serene symmetry, refined ornament and frequent use of carefully executed patterns in the backgrounds. The pictures are irregularly dispersed throughout the text. According to our modern conception, the animals often depict a surreal view of nature: a crocodile with a serpent’s head and bird’s feet and a horned panther with rather arbitrary coloring are but a few examples of an astonishing iconography which, far from naturalistic sketches, was based on the free interpretation of literary models.

Fantastic Animal Pictures on Rich Gold Leaf

The book contains an overwhelming wealth of animal depictions: 130 miniatures within only 105 pages illustrate several chapters on nature and the qualities of animals; birds, snakes, worms, fish, trees, flint stones, as well as the nature of mankind. Of special interest is the illustration of Genesis in the beginning of the book, which is set amongst exceptionally enlarged and boldly narrative painted scenes.


Alternative Titles
Das Bestiarium
Oxforder Bestiarium
Size / Format
244 pages / 27.6 × 18.3 cm
Ca. 1210
About 130 miniatures with animal illustrations on richly gilded background
Creation story and detailed allegorical descriptions of over 100 animals
Previous Owners
William Wright, vicar of High Wycombe
William Mann
Sir Peter Mancroft
John Tradescant (1608 –62)
Elias Ashmole (1617–92)
Oxford University

Available facsimile editions:
Oxford Bestiary – Ms. Ashmole 1511 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1982
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Detail Picture

Oxford Bestiary

Sixth Day of Creation

With the sign of benediction, God creates animals as he floats before a timeless and spaceless gold background: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind’; and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:24-25)

Das Bestiarium
Single Page

Oxford Bestiary

The Lion

Here we have one of the splendid full-page miniatures of this famous bestiary. It has a frame with an interlace pattern and gracefully transitions from green to red to purple and back to red. This brightly colored scene shimmers with burnished gold leaf backgrounds and depicts three scenes regarding lions in register.

In the top scene, a lion has chased down an ape and is about to devour the poor primate between two abstract trees with blue trunks and red leaves. The middle scene offers a contrast as the sympathetic-looking lion spares a man who is lying prostrate before him. In the bottom scene, the lion is afraid of a rooster or some other kind of fowl – an observation of how super predators can be easily startled by an animal reckless enough to face them.

Das Bestiarium
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Bestiarium

Oxford Bestiary – Ms. Ashmole 1511 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition
Oxford Bestiary – Ms. Ashmole 1511 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Limited Edition: 980 copies
Binding: The embossed brown leather binding is a true to the original copy of a Romanesque binding in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. All folios are cut according to the original.
Commentary: 1 volume by Franz Unterkircher
Languages: French, German, 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.
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