The Saint Petersburg Bestiary, also referred to as the Saltykov-Shchedrin bestiary, represents a transitional type of bestiary based on a general “B” type but with several interpolations and additions. Its ninety-one folios contain 114 miniatures, four of them full-page, illustrating a Creation cycle and 108 animals. The core text is still the Physiologus, but it also contains excerpts from the Isadore’s Etymologiae and the sermon, “Quocienscumque peccator,” in addition to a preface from Genesis. These would later be incorporated into thirteenth-century bestiaries in a different final arrangement.
Dating to the late twelfth century, was made in eastern England and is closely related to the Worksop Bestiary (New York, Morgan Library, MS M.81) in both textual content and the composition of its images. The color palette favors red and green with figures rendered in bold black outlines. The use of gold for borders and backgrounds throughout suggests a wealthy lay patron. The Gothic text is ornamented with typical blue and red flourished initials. It stands as a charming work that links the two major types of English bestiaries.
Transitional Type of Bestiary
Early bestiaries were based on the Physiologus, or The Naturalist, a didactic late Classical text describing the natures of the animals and their relation to Christian cosmology and eschatology. These begin with the Lion and other wild beasts and include many fantastic creatures such as unicorns, monoceroses, and the phoenix. However, by the late thirteenth century, excerpts of other texts relating to animals began to be added and bestiaries became more detailed in their treatment of the natural world rather than being strictly moralizing.
Gothic English Bestiary
The period from 1150 to 1250 saw the production of a great number of luxury bestiaries in England. The fanciest of these contain over a hundred miniatures often with gilt frames and backgrounds, resplendent in bright colors and delightful creatures. This suggests a widespread demand for these charming books among the English nobility. These, with the production of psalters, demonstrate an increase in book ownership by the laity and growing literacy outside of the monasteries.
A Gem of the Russian National Library
Although created in England, it was in France by the sixteenth century as suggested by the added marginal names for the beasts in a late-medieval French. An eighteenth-century inscription records that the owner was Francis de la Morlier, a member of a minor aristocratic family. While stationed in Paris, the book was obtained by the diplomat and bibliophile, Peter Dubrovsky, in the late eighteenth century. He gave it, along with the rest of his prodigious collection, to Tsar Alexander I and became part of the Russian National Library collection.
The binding is of dark-calf leather.
- Muratova, Xenia. The Medieval Bestiary. Trans. Inna Kitrosskaya. Moscow: Iskusstvo Art Publishers, 1984.
- Russian Culture. “The Bestiary, now preserved at the Saint Petersburg Public Library.” Cultureru.com. http://cultureru.com/the-bestiary-now-preserved-at-the-saint-petersburg-public-library/