The J. Paul Getty Museum


Object Details








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. 89v


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

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Object Description

The description of the "aspidochelone," probably a whale, in this medieval bestiary is a fantastic concoction of nature and legend, all in the service of Christian teaching. One characteristic of the large sea creature noted in the bestiary is its propensity to remain motionless for long periods of time with its back just above the water line, fooling sailors into believing it is an island. Later, as the text relates, when the sailors pitch camp on its back and light their campfires, the monster feels the heat and plunges suddenly into the watery depths. The whale is thereby understood allegorically as the wily devil who deceives sinners, ultimately plunging them into the fires of Hell.

The artist of the miniature focused on the dramatic moment of realization. While the sailors' broad faces express fear, one victim tumbles over with acrobatic flair and another man clings tenuously to the boat. To suggest movement, the artist set up a play of related curves and angles throughout the composition: for example, the improbably curved left arm of the man clinging to the boat echoes the arc of the wind-filled sail, and his legs conform to the diagonal of the mast.

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Illuminated Secular Manuscripts (January 24 to April 9, 1995)
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Manuscript Illumination of the 13th Century (January 21 to April 6, 1997)
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Masterpieces of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript illumination (December 16, 1997 to March 22, 1998)
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Landscape in the Renaissance (August 1 to October 15, 2006)
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Stories to Watch: Narrative in Medieval Manuscripts (February 22 to May 15, 2011)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), February 22 to May 15, 2011
The Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World (May 14 to August 18, 2019)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), May 14 to August 18, 2019
Education Resources
Education Resources

Education Resource




Illuminated Manuscripts Curriculum