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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Bestiary

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The Cambridge University Library bestiary is among the best known of English bestiaries, largely due to it being the subject of M.R. James's 1928 facsimile, whose commentary laid the groundwork in listing and grouping many other bestiary texts. Also, the 1954 book by T.H. White provided an English translation of its texts, accompanied by its illustrations, so knowledge of this manuscript reached a wide popular audience.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Some pages have been excised, and these perhaps contained illustrations of the antelope, unicorn, the first scene of the story of the dog and the murder of his master, 'Adam Naming the Animals', and three birds (perhaps the raven, crow and dove). The iconography of the creatures and birds in several cases is quite close to the Worksop bestiary (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.81</a>) and the St Petersburg bestiary (St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, MS Q.v.V.1), although there are difference in their order of the texts. The Cambridge bestiary more closely compares with the order of texts and iconography of the Aberdeen and Ashmole bestiaries (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Aberdeen, University Library, MS 24</a> and <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1511</a>), although unlike them it does not contain either the Creation scenes from Genesis at the beginning or Hugh of Fouilloy's aviary with its accompanying pictures. This explains why the maximum number of pictures it contained, 107, is much less than the 131 in the Ashmole bestiary.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Otherwise, the text is relatively close to that of the Ashmole bestiary, both similar to a bestiary of c. 1170 (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, British Library, MS Add. 11283</a>), which seems to be the earliest manuscript to have more or less the same order of texts. A notable difference from Ashmole is the placing of 'Adam Naming the Animals' between the scenes concerning dogs and the account of the sheep, whereas Ashmole places the Adam scene at the beginning before the account of the lion. The leaf with the Adam scene has been excised from the Cambridge manuscript, but the missing leaf is between the scenes of the habits of dogs and that of the sheep. This placing of the Adam scene also occurs in two bestiaries of the second quarter of the thirteenth century: <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii</a> and <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Harley MS 3244</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The Cambridge bestiary is unusual in that its first few pictures - the two full pages of the lion and the tiger, the pard, the panther, and the lynx - are fully painted, whereas from then on, starting with the griffin, penwork drawings are used. These seem to be deliberately and carefully finished in ink, presumably over preliminary outlines in plummet. A few have pale colour washes that do not suppress the ink drawing lines, but the majority are without such washes. It is indeed fortunate that an artist did not paint over these drawings because they are by a draughtsman of outstanding ability, superior to the less able painter who worked on the first six illustrations, who would probably have ruined these splendid drawings if he had painted over them.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The style of these drawings is linked to those in the Guthlac Roll (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, British Library, Harley Roll Y.6</a>), probably made for the Benedictine Abbey of Crowland, Lincolnshire, c. 1210-20. Both the Cambridge bestiary and the Guthlac Roll are stylistically related to some of the stained glass in Lincoln Cathedral of the first quarter of the thirteenth century. These connections of the style of drawings with places in Lincolnshire and the possible ownership of the bestiary by Revesby Abbey, albeit rather speculative, make it likely that the book was made in that region, or possibly in Yorkshire, the county to the north of Lincolnshire. Also, the closeness of the iconography to some of the bestiary images in the Worksop bestiary supports location in this region. Worksop is in Nottinghamshire, the county adjacent Lincolnshire, which was part of the archdiocese of York. A possible centre of production is the city of Lincoln, and some have suggested that the scholar <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>William de Montibus (d. 1213)</a>, master of the cathedral school from the late 1180s and from 1194 chancellor of the cathedral, may have had a role in establishing or influencing the text content of the Worksop, Cambridge, and other bestiaries. The <i>Distinctiones theologicae</i> ('Theological distinctions') and <i>Numerale</i> (Numeral) of William de Montibus influenced the texts of some manuscripts of a defined group of bestiaries, including Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 254.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Perhaps the Latin bestiaries were primarily read by priests and men in the religious orders. Several belonged to religious houses or to individual Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinian canons, Dominicans or Franciscans. The bestiary may have been more widely read by them than by members of the laity, for whose ownership, particularly of Latin bestiaries, there is less evidence. Bestiaries in the vernacular languages of Anglo-Norman, those of Philippe de Thaon and Guillaume le Clerc, and in Middle English were probably intended mainly for reading by lay men and women. However, it should be pointed out that many fewer English manuscripts survive of the vernacular versions than do those of the Latin texts.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Professor Nigel Morgan, Emeritus Honorary Professor of the History of Art, University of Cambridge</p>

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