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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Didactic miscellany, containing a bestiary and other texts

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript is one of a small group of examples containing an uncommon textual recension. Minor variant readings of this manuscript prove that its text is the most faithful to that of the lost archetype among all the bestiary recensions. It is most similar to Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 254 in many aspects and was very probably copied from the same lost archetype. The main departures of Kk.4.25 from the Fitzwilliam bestiary are a slight change in the chapter order and the presence of two chapters of strictly didactic character that has no relation to the typical content of the bestiaries: <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(149);return false;'><i>Quattuor modis peccatum</i></a> ('The Four Ways it is Sinful') and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(150);return false;'><i>Quattuor colores caelestis</i></a> ('The Four Heavenly Colours').</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>These two chapters appear after the chapter on the ibis. The first texts comes from Gregory the Great with some variations and paraphrases, while the second is a free paraphrase of Isidore of Seville's text on the rainbow (<i>arcus</i>). Both chapters appear in the cluster of content on birds, which was taken from a different textual version of the bestiary. The cluster includes the following birds: ibis, phoenix, ostrich, coot, halcyon. Hence, Kk.4.25 has these additional chapters on the these birds as well as the chapters typical of this group. Further, Kk.4.25 contains a chapter on the bird hoopoe, concludes the section on birds with the chapter on the peridexion tree, and contains a chapter on the hydrus, none of which appear in other manuscipts of this group. All of these additions came from a manuscript very similar to <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, British Library, Add. MS 11283</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Another important textual peculiarity of Kk.4.25 is an addition from a text concerning the symbolism and morals of classical mythology for a Christian audience by the so-called Vatican Mythographer III. These inclusions may indicate that by the time Kk.4.25 was written, the tradition of this version of the text still was not stable, further evidence that this group's archtype may date to not long before this manuscript was created.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(103);return false;'>bestiary</a> in Kk.4.25 is one of eighteen texts intended to be bound together. In its original condition, the manuscript probably included even more. Thus, this manuscript is one of the few large miscellanies that include a bestiary. The nature of all these texts is strictly didactic, leading to the conclusion that the manuscript was used as a teaching tool in a cathedral school or monastery.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In terms of its programme of illuminations, Kk.4.25 is a masterpiece of bestiary imagery, often overlooked in discussions of the most beautiful examples. The iconography of this manuscript is the closest to the Fitzwilliam's, although it has many of its own motifs and variants. The illustrations in the bestiary and other sections are the works of several different artists. As one scholar has pointed out, the style of the illustrations is unusually monumental, as is exemplified in the rendering of the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(172);return false;'>sea creature</a>, and might be linked with wall painting models, for example the painted chamber of Westminster Palace. The troughed folds and angular poses of some of the figures in Kk.4.25 bestiary are reminiscent of some later sculptures in Westminster Abbey. Another iconographic link pointing to London may be found in the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(40);return false;'>cross-legged king</a> and an image of David wearing a crown in the psalter produced in this region (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.25</a>, folio 4).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript has numerous unique illustrations. The mutilated folio <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(101);return false;'>52</a> now preserves only two framed illustrations from the so-called Monstrous Races section, of an Antipode and of Bragmanni holding a scroll with text from John of Salisbury's <i>Policraticus</i> in their hands: <i>Divitas non habemus quarum cupiditate nos expugnare debeas</i> ('We do not possess wealth, [otherwise] out of greed, you would want to conquer us'). It seems that the manuscript has lost the scene of Adam Naming the Animals that usually follows Marvels of the East in this textual recension. In the illustration to the chapters on the wether, ram, sheep and lamb, above the shepherd's head is an inscription in Anglo-Norman French, testifying to the artist's sense of humour: <i>Ha ha ware le corn</i> ('Ha ha beware of horns') (folio <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(108);return false;'>58v</a>). The chapter on the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(114);return false;'>stag</a> in Kk.4.25, like that in the Fitzwilliam bestiary, illustrates the story of the stags crossing a river, each with its chin on the back of the one in front of it. The illustration of this motif is rare: as far as I know, only one bestiary (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 53</a>, f. 192r) has such a scene. In the chapter on the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(133);return false;'>dog</a>, Kk.4.25 is missing the first leaf and now shows two scenes. The first consists of two registers with perhaps unique illustrations of Jason's dog refusing food near the beheaded corpse of its master, and Lysimachus's dog throwing itself on the funeral pyre, both demonstrating their great loyalty. The next scene is an illustration of armed Albanian men guided by a dog that traced the robber who had stolen their ox. In the chapter on the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(176);return false;'>asp</a>, the face of the charmer seems to have been modeled on that of the rider in the dromedary chapter in <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, British Library, Harley MS 3244</a>, f. 48r.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Another unique illustration can be found in the chapter on the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(137);return false;'>squirrel</a>, called <i>cyrogrillus</i>, in which an artist of Kk.4.25 represents two scenes: the first shows the squirrel cracking a nut at the top of the tree, while in the second the squirrel is displayed apparently intending to cross the river on a sort of raft full of shells. The chapter on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(150);return false;'>Four Heavenly Colours</a>, an atypical text for a bestiary as mentioned above, is illustrated with an image of a rainbow.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Other examples of rarely seen approaches to ilumination can be seen in Kk.4.25's illustrations of the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(139);return false;'>Hydra</a> and the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(140);return false;'>Gorgon</a>: at the bottom of f. 68v is a fragment of waves that seems to be from an illustration of Scylla. After that, on f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(127);return false;'>69r</a>, are two scenes of sirens. The first shows three sirens, a scene that is rare (analagous examples occur in <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 88</a> and <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>MS Bodley 602</a>); the second scene is mutilated an presents a ship with sailors who have sirens' hands on their necks and heads. While the composition is rare in English bestiaries (I am aware only of <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 764</a>, f. 74v having a similar one), it is common in vernacular French bestiaries, for example bestiaries of Richard de Fournival and Guillaume le Clerc. Finally, the artist of Kk.4.25 illustrates the hippocentaur with a bow and the onocentaur with a shield and a club. The manuscript is incomplete, as it is missing the images of Cerberus, Chimera, and the centaur that conclude the Westminster manuscript (London, Westminster Abbey, MS 22).</p><p>Dr Ilya Dines</p>

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