Early illustrated bestiary


A bestiary is a book of descriptions and pictures of beasts that combines natural history, Christian allegorical lessons and appealing pictures. Originating from the late-antique natural history compilation the Physiologus, the bestiary was a popular picture-book in England from the 12th century onwards. Not all bestiaries contain the same set of descriptions, and scholars have grouped the different versions into text families.

This manuscript is the earliest surviving example of the ‘second family’, an expanded version that organises the creatures into beasts, birds and reptiles. It was made in England in the late 12th century and features 102 drawings of animals.

This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.

Full title:
Early illustrated bestiary
4th quarter of the 12th century, England
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 11283

Full catalogue details

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Beastly tales from the medieval bestiary

Article by:
Elizabeth Morrison
Science and nature, Christian religion and belief

Legends of animals helped readers in the Middle Ages to make sense of the living world. Elizabeth Morrison delves into the wondrous and delightful stories of the medieval bestiary.

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