Extremely widespread during the late 12th century, Bestiaries were illustrated animal books whose depictions related to the Biblical text in allegorical ways. The Oxford Bestiary is possibly one of the best examples among books of this kind from the central middle ages.
The Oxford Bestiary: An Opulent Work of Art
With its lavish gold-leaf inserts, this manuscript is exceptional for both its depictions of animals in matte though brilliant colors, but also for the illustrations depicting plants, trees, and human characters. The artist's sense of symmetry, the sophisticated decorations and diaper-pattern backgrounds suggest that he truly was a master in his art.
A Universe in Miniature
The 130 animal miniatures in the Oxford Bestiary are really incredible: their depictions of birds, snakes, worms, and fish are often fantastic and marvelous. One can often find a crocodile with a snake's head and bird paws, an eccentrically colored panther, and so on. These allegorical depictions were certainly based on the artist's free interpretation of what he could find in other treatises and books.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Oxford Bestiary":
- BESTIARIUM. Fac-similé du manuscrit du Bestiaire Ashmole 1551, conservé à la Bodleian Library d'Oxford facsimile edition published by Club du Livre, 1984
- Das Bestiarium facsimile edition published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1982