Manuscript

Aberdeen University Library, Univ. Lib. MS 24
(Aberdeen Bestiary)

Codicology

Produced: England, c 1200
Location: Aberdeen University Library (University of Aberdeen), Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
Type: Bestiary
Family: Second
Language: Latin
Folios: 103
Illustrated: Yes
Media: Parchment
Dimensions: Height: 30.2 cm Width: 21 cm
Folio 15r

Description

The Aberdeen Bestiary is a luxury manuscript, with expertly painted illustrations and a lavish use of gold leaf for backgrounds. The digital edition and facsimle produced by the Aberdeen University Library is of equally high quality; it includes not only the high resolution images of the manuscript, but also commentary on each image, a transcription and translation of every page, a history of the manuscript and an extensive codicology.

The manuscript is in several sections:

  • Beasts: (8r-24v) Mostly mammals, plus the ant, fully illustrated
  • Birds: (26r-65r) An aviary (book of birds), fully illustrated
  • Serpents: (65v-71r) "Serpents" includes snakes, lizards and dragons, fully illustrated
  • Etymologies: (81r-93r) Extracts from the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, one illustration of Isidore writing
  • Stones: (94r-103v) A mostly later addition of a lapidary, with the Fire stones fully illustrated, and only the Diamond and Pearl illustrated with simple colored sketches

The book begins with a prefatory illustrated Creation cycle from Genesis (1:1-8, 20-28, 31; 2:1-2), of which days 1,2,5,6 and 7 remain (f.1r-f.5v). The main text is a bestiary (f.7r-f.94r). The birds section (f.25r-f.63r) contains most of the Aviarium by Hugo of Fouilloy. A lapidary (f.94r-f.103v) was added in the later thirteenth century.

There are obvious losses in the Aberdeen Bestiary, where certain images have been cut out. This must have happened before 1726 when the excisions were recorded in the Marischal College catalogue. These are the hart (f.13v), sheep (f.20v), bullock (f.21v), two doves (f.28r), cock (f.39r), jackdaw (f.51v), partridge (f.54r). There is no obvious theme to this selection of removed images. ... Based on the parallel text in the Ashmole Bestiary, pages for the antelope, unicorn, lynx, griffon and the illustration of the elephant are missing between f.9v and f.10r.

The recorded history of the manuscript begins in 1542 when it was listed as No.518 Liber de bestiarum natura in the inventory of the Old Royal Library, at Westminster Palace. ... Several books 'escaped' from the royal library, frequently to other ardent collectors, and the Aberdeen Bestiary was probably given away in the early seventeenth century. ... It was probably Patrick who gave the book to Thomas Reid. ... Reid was Regent of Marischal College, Aberdeen and Latin Secretary to James VI. Reid gave it, along with about 1350 books and manuscripts, to Marischal College in 1624/5. When the Library was catalogued by Thomas Gray in c.1670, the book had the shelfmark 2.B.XV Sc and was called Isidori phisiologia.

[adapted from Aberdeen University Library description]

The artist may be the same as that of Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1511. The illustrations are often highly stylized. The plants in particular are unlike any real plant. The artist seems to have one pattern for hawks, eagles, vultures, and other like birds; they all look very similar.

Additional Descriptions

Additional description 1
Additional description 2

Editions and Facsimiles

Digital editions

Aberdeen University Library

Digital facsimiles

Aberdeen University Library