Thursday, July 12, 2012

Medieval Bestiaries

Upcoming from Abbeville Press, The Grand Medieval Bestiary: The Animal in Illuminated Manuscripts has nearly nearly 600 illustrations, ranging from the margins of gospels to pages from commissioned luxury books like the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Whether allegorical, symbolic, heraldic, or misguided attempts at natural history, they're all splendid. According to their catalog, "It is arranged in the manner of a proper bestiary, with essays on one hundred animals alphabetized by their Latin names, from the alauda, or lark, whose morning song was thought to be a hymn to Creation, to the vultur, which enjoyed a certain respect due to its impressive appearance, but whose taste for carrion also made it a symbol of the sinner who indulges in worldly pleasures. The selection includes a number of creatures that would now be considered fantastic, including the griffin, the manticore, and of course the fabled unicorn, tamable only by a gentle maiden."
We're looking into whether we can carry this title, but in the meantime, here's a related one from our shelves: Illuminations in the Robert Lehman Collection. Below are some sample illustrations and texts from the Aberdeen Bestiary, thought to have belonged to Henry VIII. It will shortly go on display at that university's library in Scotland.
The top two panels illustrate a story about a dog who carries some meat over a bridge. Seeing its own reflection in the water, the dog drops the meat to grab the reflection. Below are two dogs licking their wounds with their healing tongues.

"The fox is crafty and deceitful. When it is hungry it rolls in red earth to look as if it is covered in blood. It feigns death by holding its breath. Birds come to sit on the body whereupon the fox jumps up and eats them."

9 comments:

  1. I've always loved illuminations! The inherent magic always drew me in. As a child, I'm not ashamed to say I believed in both dragons AND unicorns. Perhaps a part of me still does and, judging from above, I wasn't alone:)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi. These illuminations are very beautiful. The use of gold is very fancy. I love the depiction of an elephant in the 6th picture of the blog post. It's almost like the artist was illustrating using a description and had never seen one in his life. In fact, everything about that frame of art is very odd. The lizard drinking from the water rather than just swimming in it, the strange headless, but torso-faced humanoids.. and just how many appendages does the caveman sitting on the ground have?? 3 arms and 3 legs?! I particularly like the last two of the foxes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, yeah, that is one weird page! Where did the human-faced serpent come from? You saw the rest of the book, JP, was there anything like an explanation of that assembly of oddities?

      Delete
    2. So many of them were based on hearsay, imagination, distortions of some element of a real creature. The latitude in both the depictions and the narrative is enough to make any modern-day naturalist blanch! It all seems like a colossal, somewhat perverted waste of time—but maybe that's what the future will say about us :)
      The images are cool though! I'll post some more today.

      Delete
  3. You know, it's worth coming to this blog just for the illuminated manuscripts you post pictures of on occasion! Clearly, the so-called "Dark Ages" weren't that dark after all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It makes me so happy for you to say that. I was wondering whether I was imposing one of my obsessions!

      Delete
  4. If Narwhals exist Unicorns may exist.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What truly exists is so deeply strange that there is no need to make anything up! Witness all of those tv shows about strange creatures of the deep, etc.

      Delete