Bestiary of John of Austria

Alternate Titles:

Bestiario de Don Juan de Austria, Bestiarium von Juan d'Austria

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Bestiario de Don Juan de Austria
Bestiarium von Juan d'Austria

Type
Extent / Format

484 pages / N/A

Origin
Date
1570
Style
Genre
Language
Artist / School

Martín Villaverde

Short description

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.

Facsimile editions available

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.

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.

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