NARRATOR: Welcome to the world of the medieval bestiary, one of the great traditions of manuscript illumination in the Middle Ages. My name is Clive Russell, and I’m here to invite you into the world of the medieval bestiary. Some beasts will seem familiar while others now exist only in our imaginations, but the bestiary brings them all to life. This is curator Elizabeth Morrison:
BETH MORRISON: It was a very special kind of book and very popular, which isn’t surprising because it’s filled with images of hundreds of animals. In a way you can think of it as a kind of encyclopedia of animals.
NARRATOR: Most of the beasts weren’t “scientifically” documented in the way we would expect today.
BETH MORRISON: Today, when we go to Wikipedia, we see the entry for “lion” and it talks about its habitat, where it lives, what it likes to eat and how much it tends to weigh—how big it is. Those kinds of things weren’t important in the same way to people in the Middle Ages. Animals were really seen as symbols.
NARRATOR: Symbols of the wonder and diversity of God’s creation, set within a Christian context. As you move through this exhibition, you’ll notice how certain stories persist.
BETH MORRISON: The images that we see today, whether it be a Disney movie or a commercial on TV, is infused with imagery and ideas that we get directly from the medieval bestiary—whether you know it or not.