Cambridge University Library, Kk.4.25


Produced: England, 1220-40
Location: Cambridge University Library (University of Cambridge), Cambridge, England, UK
Type: Miscellany
Family: Third
Language: Latin
Folios: 125
Illustrated: Yes
Media: Parchment
Dimensions: Height: 28.5 cm Width: 19.5 cm
Folio 69v


The illustrated third family bestiary is on folio 56v-100v. After the bestiary there are two pages (folio 101r-101v) describing the seven wonders of the world (De septem mirabilibus mundi) with an illustrated chapter on the fire stones (folio 101v).

There are 175 illustrations in total. The illustrations were done by at least two artists, probably more. The first series of images, up to folio 74v, are generally well drawn, and are colored and framed. After that the images are not framed, but are mostly colored and are reasonably well done. There is an abrupt change at folio 86v, where the illustrations become simple, very small, badly executed drawings with little color. Colored (but unframed) drawings return on folio 87v. A space is left on folio 64v for the lion illustration, which was not completed. Some of the fish chapters have a space left for an illustration that was not completed.

The bestiary is divided into sections for beasts (folio 56v-77v), birds (folio 79r-88v), fish and other aquatic animals (folio 89r-92v), and serpents (folio 93r-98v). The bee chapter (folio 99r) is after the serpent section (it is usually included with the birds). On folio 100r-100v there is a list of beasts (with brief descriptions but no illustrations); none of these has been identified and they are not included here.

While the first part of the bestiary has a traditional format, the later parts have similarities to an encyclopedia, particularly in the bird, fish and serpent sections, where there are many animals with only a few lines of basic description that are like those in encyclopedias. The bird section has several entries for birds that are not in the typical bestiary. In the fish section there are entries for the aquatic versions of land animals (sea-wolf, sea-hare, etc.), often found in encyclopedias but not in bestiaries. One could say that it is a bestiary with an embedded encyclopedia.

There is a section of text (no illustrations) from folio 63v to 64v that discusses the nature of all animals (Omnium animantium) and the naming of animals (Bestiarum vocabulum).

The manuscript was not treated kindly over its lifetime. Several folios have images cut out (now lost), folios 57 and 72 are missing entirely, sloppy page trimming has removed part of some images, and ink was spilled on some pages. There are later scribbles and rough drawings throughout; the later drawings are mostly very poor copies of the orginals.

[Adapted from the Cambridge University Library description]

This manuscript is one of a small group of examples containing an uncommon textual recension. Minor variant readings of this manuscript prove that its text is the most faithful to that of the lost archetype among all the bestiary recensions. It is most similar to Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 254 in many aspects and was very probably copied from the same lost archetype. The main departures of Kk.4.25 from the Fitzwilliam bestiary are a slight change in the chapter order and the presence of two chapters [folio 81r-81v] of strictly didactic character that has no relation to the typical content of the bestiaries: Quattuor modis peccatum ('The Four Ways it is Sinful') and Quattuor colores caelestis ('The Four Heavenly Colours').

The bestiary in Kk.4.25 is one of eighteen texts intended to be bound together. In its original condition, the manuscript probably included even more. Thus, this manuscript is one of the few large miscellanies that include a bestiary. The nature of all these texts is strictly didactic, leading to the conclusion that the manuscript was used as a teaching tool in a cathedral school or monastery.

In terms of its programme of illuminations, Kk.4.25 is a masterpiece of bestiary imagery, often overlooked in discussions of the most beautiful examples. The iconography of this manuscript is the closest to the Fitzwilliam's, although it has many of its own motifs and variants. The illustrations in the bestiary and other sections are the works of several different artists.

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