The J. Paul Getty Museum

Northumberland Bestiary

Object Details


Northumberland Bestiary






England (Place Created)


about 1250–1260


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

Object Number:

Ms. 100 (2007.16)


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

See more

See less

Object Description

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.

Explore this manuscript and more in Fantastic Beasts of the Middle Ages on Google Arts & Culture

early 16th century

Probably Robert Turges, British, died 1504
Note: There are records of the family of Turges in Dorset and it is known that Robert Turges owned land there in 1461 and that the hamlet of Melcombe Bingham was called Melcombe Turges until at least 1523.

early 18th century

Grace Strode, British, born 1650, by inheritance to her daughter, Grace Thynne.

- 1725

Grace Thynne, British, died 1725, by inheritance to her daughter, Frances Seymour.

1725 - 1754

Frances Thynne, British, 1699 - 1754 and Earl of Northumberland, 7th Duke of Somerset Algernon Seymour, British, 1684 - 1750, by inheritance to their daughter, Elizabeth Seymour.

1754 - 1776

Duchess of Northumberland Elizabeth Percy, British, 1716 - 1776 and Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, English, 1714 - 1786, by inheritance to the Dukes of Northumberland.

1776 - 1990

Dukes of Northumberland [sold, Sotheby's, London, Nov. 29, 1990, lot 101, to László von Hoffmann.]

1990 - 2007

László von Hoffmann, German, 1927 - 2014 (Washington D. C.), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007.

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) (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
Traversing the Globe through Illuminated Manuscripts (January 22 to June 26, 2016) (fols. 17v-18)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), January 22 to June 26, 2016
Blessed Beasts and Curious Creatures: Animal Processionals from the 13th to the 21st Centuries (September 23 to December 11, 2016) (fols. 5v-6)
  • Timken Museum of Art (San Diego), September 19 to December 11, 2016
The Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World (May 14 to August 18, 2019) (fols. 5v-6)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), May 14 to August 18, 2019

Muratova, Xenia. "Les manuscrits-frères: un aspect particulier de la production des Bestiaires enluminés en Angleterre à la fin du XIIe siècle." In Artistes, artisans et production artistique au Moyen Age. Colloque international, 2-6 Mai 1983, vol. III. Xavier Barral I Altet, ed. (Picard: Paris, 1990), pp. 81-82.

Millar, Eric George A Thirteenth Century Bestiary in the Library of Alnwick Castle (Oxford: Roxburghe Club, 1958), facsimile.

McCulloch, Florence. Mediaeval Latin and French Bestiaries (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1962), p. 34.

Kauffmann, Claus Michael. A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles. Vol. 3, Romanesque Manuscripts, 1066-1190 (London: Harvey Miller, 1975), p. 126.

Einhorn, Jürgen W. Spiritalis Unicornis: Das Einhorn als Bedeutungsträger in Literatur und Kunst des Mittelalters (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1976), pp. 80, 336.

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

Yapp, William Brunsdon. Birds in Medieval Manuscripts (London: The British Library, 1981), pp. 18, 35.

Morgan, Nigel. A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles. Vol 4, Early Gothic Manuscripts 1190-1250 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 60, No. 2 (1988), pp. 85-6; no. 115, and figs. 90-94.

Yapp, William Brunsdon. "Birds in Bestiaries: Medieval Knowledge of Nature." The Cambridge Review 105, no. 2282 (November, 1984), p. 187.

Muratova, Xénia, and Daniel Poirion. Le Bestiarium: fac-simile du Manuscrit Ashmole 1511 (Paris: Club du Livre, 1984), p. 33.

Kolve, Verdel A. Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984), p. 436.

Yapp, William Brunsdon "A New Look at English Bestiaries." Medium Aevum 54, no. 1 (January 1, 1985), pp. 1, 8.

Muratova, Xénia. "I manoscritti miniati del bestiario medievale: origine, formazione e sviluppo dei cicli di illustrazioni. Bestiari miniati in Inghilterra nei secoli XII-XIV." Settimane di studio sull'Alto Medioevo. Vol. 31, L'Uomo di fronte al mondo animale nell'alto medioevo (Spoleto: Presso la sede del centro, 1985), p. 1350.

Barker, Nicholas. Two East Anglian Picture Books (Oxford: Roxburghe Club, 1988), p. 5, p. 5.

Clark, Willene B., and Meradith T. McMunn, eds. Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages: The Bestiary and Its Legacy. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), p. 199.

Sotheby's, London. Western Manuscripts and Miniatures. November 29, 1990, pp. 138-61, lot 101, ill.

Payne, Anne. "The Northumberland Bestiary and its group." In Sotheby's Art at Auction 1990-1991, ed. Sally Prideaux (London: Sotheby's, 1991), pp. 159-165, pp. 160, 163, 164, ill.

Baxter, Ron. Bestiaries and Their Users in the Middle Ages (Thrupp: Sutton Publishing, 1998), pp. 100, 111, 114-24, 147, 177.

Kline, Naomi Reed. Maps of Medieval Thought: The Hereford Paradigm (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2001), pp. 119-23, figs. 4.8-4.10.

de Chantilly, Marc Vaulbert. Robert Harding Evans of Pall Mall: Auction Catalogues 1812-1846. A  Provisional List by Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly (Bethnal Green: The Vanity Press of Bethnal Green, 2002), p. xiii.

"Getty's Gothic English manuscript unveiled in LA." The Guardian [London] (June 5, 2007), p. 19, ill.

Morrison, Elizabeth. "A masterpiece of Gothic illumination: the Northumberland Bestiary." World of Antiques & Art 73 (August 2007 - February 2008), pp. 44-47, figs. 1-7.

Holcomb, Melanie, ed. Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages, exh. cat. (New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 144-45, no. 42.

Nishimura, Margot McIlwain. Images in the Margins (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum; London: The British Library, 2009), pp. 44-45, fig. 45.

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. i, 18-48, figs. 1-29.

McKendrick, Scot, John Lowden, Kathleen Doyle, Joanna Frońska, and Deirdre Elizabeth Jackson. Royal Manuscripts: the Genius of Illumination (London: British Library, 2011), p. 262.

Pigeon, Christel and Gérard Lhéritier. L'Or des Manuscrits: Les 100 Manuscrits les plus Précieux. Paris: Gallimard, 2012, pp. 28-29, ill.

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.

Black, Maggie. The Medieval Cookbook. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012), p. 125, fig. 54.

Dines, Ilya. "The problem of the Transitional Family of Bestiaries." Reinardus. Yearbook of the International Reynard Society 24 (2012), pp. 33-36, 38-40.

Muratova, Xenia. "Per la raffigurazione della 'lingua adamica': storia di un malinteso iconografico." In Miniatura. Lo sguardo e la parola. Studi in onore di Giordana Mariani Canova. F. Toniolo and G. Toscano, eds. (Milan: SilvanaEditoriale, 2012), pp. 61-68.

Malafarina, Gianfranco. "La bella e la bestia." Alumina: Pagine Miniate 13 no. 49 (April-June 2015), p. 41, ill.

Kelly, Donika. Bestiary: poems (Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2016), cover ill.

Guest, Gerald B. "The Beautiful Lucifer as an Object of Aesthetic Contemplation in the Central Middle Ages." Studies in Iconography 38 (2017), p. 113, ill.

Morrison, Elizabeth, and Larisa Grollemond. Book of Beasts. The Bestiary in the Medieval World, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2019), pp. 31, 37, 55, 94-96, 98-101, 99, 100, 269, 312-313.

Dines, Ilya, (2020). Producing the Bestiary. Medievalista Online, 29, 91-116. doi:10.4000/medievalista.3867, p. 110, 113.