Oxford Bestiary

Ms. Ashmole 1511 - Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom)

Alternate Titles:

Das Bestiarium, Oxforder Bestiarium

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Das Bestiarium
Oxforder Bestiarium

Type
Extent / Format

244 pages / 27.6 x 18.3 cm

Origin
Date
Around 1210
Style
Genre
Language
Illustrations

About 130 miniatures with animal illustrations on richly gilded background

Former owners

William Wright, vicar of High Wycombe
William Mann
Sir Peter Mancroft
John Tradescant
Elias Ashmole
Oxford University

Short description

During the High Middle Ages, bestiaries, moralizing illustrated books of animals, were extremely poplure. The Oxfordian Bestiary probably ranks among the finest examples of its kind. It is a codex that is densely filled with gilded depictions of creatures whose depictions reflect a surreal view of nature: 130 miniatures within only 105 pages. In addition to the typical chapters dividing creatures into various categories, the manuscript also features an illustration of the Book of Genesis at the beginning of the codex.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Fantastic Animal Pictures on Rich Gold Leaf

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 marvellous, 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.

130 Gilded Animal Depictions

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, flintstones, 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.

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