Among illuminated medieval manuscripts, the bestiary or “book of beasts” was second only to the Bible and book of hours in popularity. The depiction of dozens or hundreds of beasts like those found in the Peterborough Bestiary offered great opportunities for illuminators to exercise their artistic creativity.
Some, like the Oxford Bestiary, made extensive use of precious gold leaf. However, these were not merely proto-zoological texts, animals were treated as allegorical creatures associated with a moralizing lesson from Christian theology.
This genre of medieval manuscript is rooted in antiquity and bestiary manuscripts represent some of the most popular, artful, and fascinating medieval texts to survive today. Thus, bestiaries offer a unique glimpse into the mindset and outlook of medieval Europeans. It is for all of these reasons that bestiaries were so popular during the Middle Ages, and continue to be some of the most fascinating specimens of medieval art today.