The J. Paul Getty Museum

A Siren and a Centaur

Object Details


A Siren and a Centaur






Thérouanne ?, France (formerly Flanders) (Place Created)


about 1270


Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment

Object Number:

Ms. Ludwig XV 3 (83.MR.173), fol. 78


Leaf: 19.1 × 14.3 cm (7 1/2 × 5 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

The siren and the centaur are two of the mythological beasts that populate the medieval bestiary. Preserved from ancient mythology in texts such as this, their significance changed in the Middle Ages as they became vehicles for Christian teaching. The siren was still represented as half woman, half bird, with an extraordinary power to lure sailors with their charm. In this text, however, the siren has become a moralizing symbol of vanity. Just as sailors are enticed by sirens, so ignorant and incautious human beings are seduced by pretty voices, when they are charmed by vain desires and pleasures. The centaur also appears frequently in medieval art. A fantastic hybrid from ancient mythology, half horse, half man, whose human appearance from the front conceals a beastly nature behind, the centaur represented the sin of hypocrisy in the Christian tradition.

French Illuminated Manuscripts (July 17 to October 6, 1985)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), July 17 to October 6, 1985
Ten Centuries of French Illumination (April 23 to July 7, 1996)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), April 23 to July 7, 1996
Transforming Tradition: Ancient Motifs in Medieval Manuscripts (September 23 to November 30, 2003)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), September 23 to November 30, 2003
Illuminated Manuscripts from Belgium and the Netherlands (August 24, 2010 to February 6, 2011)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), August 24, 2010 to February 6, 2011
Education Resources
Education Resources

Education Resource




Fantastical Beasts

Lesson in which students explore medieval manuscripts and fantastical creatures, create a creature with complementary colors, and write a description.

Visual Arts; English–Language Arts


Three/Five-Part Lesson