books · libraries

Antique Books: A Most Royal Bestiary

Tiger Aberdeen Bestiary.PNG

We often think of illuminated manuscripts as beautiful works of art fit only for nobility. In reality, however, these books often had more practical purposes. The Aberdeen Bestiary, a work filled with gold leaf and intricate drawings, is a perfect example of how these books could be used.

Ram Aberdeen Bestiary.PNGThough the Aberdeen Bestiary was created in the 12th century, the first official record of it was in 1542 when it was documented in the Royal Library at Westminster. Around this time, King Henry VII was dissolving many monasteries in England, and it is likely that one of his agents seized the manuscript during this process.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have delved into a more nuanced study of the manuscript, and they have discovered some fascinating information. Art historian Jane Geddes told Live Science that many of the words in the manuscript have accent marks by them in Unicorn Aberdeen Bestiary.PNGorder to emphasize portions for reading to an audience. She mentioned that “On one page there is an area of dirty finger marks at the center top of the page,” which is something that would occur if an individual was repeatedly turning the book upside down to show it to others. This indicates the the book was primarily used for teaching. Though the images inside the Aberdeen Bestiary are of animals, Medieval teachers were not focusing on husbandry lessons. Instead, the used the stories about animals contained in the manuscript to explore moral tales.

Owl Aberdeen Bestiary.PNG

Scholars have discovered all of this and more through their project to digitize the book. This allowed them to reveal details that were invisible to the naked eye, which highlight the ways the manuscript was made and used. They identified information about copying techniques, the way the work was edited, and the many ways it was used.

The University of Aberdeen has placed the entirety of the digital manuscript online. By going to their site, you can read more about the research done on the project as well as an excellent history of the bestiary. The site also provides a bibliography for more reading. It is one of the better places online to explore an old manuscript, so if you are at all interested in Medieval times or illuminations, I encourage you to take a look at it. Though I have added several images from the Aberdeen Bestiary here, these are only a sampling of the the illustrations, and the quality on my page pales in comparison to the quality of the images on the University of Aberdeen’s site. (Perhaps you can even play one of my favorite games: What animal was the Medieval scholar trying to depict? Is it a goat? A wild cat? A sea serpent? I guess wrong every time.)

ThePantherBestiary.PNG

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Bibliography:

Jeanna Bryner, “Fit for a King? Medieval Book ‘Illuminates’ Likely Theft by Henry VII’ Live Science, 7 November 2016, http://www.livescience.com/56769-medieval-book-seized-by-king-henry-viii.html.

“The Aberdeen Bestiary”, University of Aberdeen, Special Collections, Library, https://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/

Image Attributions:

The Tiger, Folio 8 recto of the Aberdeen Bestiary, ca. 12th century, Aberdeen University Library.

The Owl, Aberdeen Bestiary, ca. 12th century, Aberdeen University Library.

The Unicorn, Folio 15 recto of the Aberdeen Bestiary, ca. 12th century, Aberdeen University Library.

The Ram, Folio 21 recto of the Aberdeen Bestiary, ca. 12th century, Aberdeen University Library.

The Panther, Folio 9 recto of the Aberdeen Bestiary, ca. 12th century, Aberdeen University Library.

The Panther, Folio 9 recto of the Aberdeen Bestiary, ca. 12th century, Aberdeen University Library.

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16 thoughts on “Antique Books: A Most Royal Bestiary

      1. Well Kristen… you go ahead because I will just lap them up 🙂 On a serious note I’m a big fan of history and the whole process of how we thought in the past has shaped the way we think now. Treasures such as this are priceless. Happy Holidays

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Dude! You’re just like a waterfall of knowledge! Where do you find these things? It always fascinates me to read your blog posts because (as a science major) we never deal with old books or cultures or anything, but they are truly quite fascinating! Thank you for sharing and I love the unicorn picture. :p

    Liked by 1 person

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