Bestiaries, medieval to modern

The bestiary was a popular literary genre of the middle ages.  Bestiaries describe animals – both real and imaginary – and provide moral or allegorical interpretations of their characteristics or behaviors. Sometimes the descriptions are accurate, other times, fantastic.  Bestiaries were usually highly illustrated, often with colorful, whimsical depictions of the animals in the text.  Bestiaries and other moralizing texts describing the natural world, such as lapidaries (which treat the subject of gems and minerals), provided readers with both instruction and entertainment.

Special Collections has a number of medieval, Renaissance, and modern bestiaries which can be accessed in our reading room.  These include facsimiles of early English bestiaries, printed versions from 17th century France and Italy, and a number of fine press bestiaries wedding the medieval text to modern illustrations.  Special Collections’ bestiaries can be found in the library catalog using the search string “bestiaries” and searching with the genre/form button.

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