Northumberland Bestiary

Object Details


Northumberland Bestiary






England (Place created)


about 1250 - 1260


Colored wahes and ink on parchment, bound between pasteboard and covered with red morocco


Closed: 21 x 15.7 cm (8 1/4 x 6 3/16 in.)

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The bestiary--a collection of descriptions and images of real and imaginary animals intended to provide readers with moral lessons--was one of the most important traditions to emerge from medieval England. Although bestiaries were a kind of medieval encyclopedia of animals, they explored the world of animals primarily in order to explain their significance within the Christian worldview. Male lions were seen as worthy reflections of the God the Father, for example, while the dragon was understood as a representative of Satan on earth.

Each of the over one hundred animals featured in this manuscript (called the Northumberland Bestiary after a previous owner) has a unique and colorful story visualized in lively and animated terms. Tales of elephants carrying soldiers in far-away India must have seemed as incredible to the manuscript's owner as the images of the terrible six-headed hydra, who will grow three more heads for each head cut off. Executed in the colored drawing style that is part of England's distinctive contribution to history of art, the expressive naturalism seen in the images stands as a superb testament to the artistic heights achieved by English Gothic illumination.

Related Works
Medieval Beasts (May 1 to July 29, 2007) (fols. 46v - 47)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), May 1 to July 29, 2007
Rare Finds: Ten Years of Collecting Manuscripts (February 12 to April 20, 2008) (fols. 12v - 13)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), February 12 to April 20, 2008
Pen and Parchment (June 1 to August 23, 2009) (42; fols. 12v - 13)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (New York), June 1 to August 23, 2009
The Medieval Scriptorium (November 24, 2009 to February 14, 2010) (fols. 49v - 50)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), November 24, 2009 to February 14, 2010
Gothic Grandeur: Manuscript Illumination 1200-1350 (December 13, 2011 to May 13, 2012) (fols. 5v - 6)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), December 13, 2011 to May 13, 2012

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Third Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (1872; repr., Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus, 1979) p. 112.

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White, Cynthia. From the Ark to the Pulpit: An Edition and Translation of the "Transitional" Northumberland Bestiary (13th Century) (Louvain-La-Neuve: L’Institut d’ Études Médiévales, 2009) pp. 18-48, figs. 1-29.

White, Cynthia. "Un Serraglio Gotico: Il Bestario Northumberland." Alumina 10, no. 36 (January-March 2012) pp. 3-4, 6-17, ill.

Pedersen, Nate. "The Getty Goes Gothic." Fine Books & Collections 10, no. 1 (Winter 2012) pp. 23-24, ill.

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