Aberdeen Bestiary
Adam naming the beasts, in an illustration from the Aberdeen Bestiary
DateEarly 13th Century

The Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library, Univ Lib. MS 24) is a 12th-century English illuminated manuscript bestiary that was first listed in 1542 in the inventory of the Old Royal Library at the Palace of Westminster.[1] Due to similarities, it is often considered to be the "sister" manuscript of the Ashmole Bestiary.[1] The connection between the ancient Greek didactic text Physiologus and similar bestiary manuscripts is also often noted.[2] Information about the manuscript's origins and patrons are circumstantial, although the manuscript most likely originated from the 13th century and was owned by a wealthy ecclesiastical patron from north or south England.[2] Currently, the Aberdeen Bestiary resides in the Aberdeen University Library in Scotland.[3]


The Aberdeen Bestiary and the Ashmole Bestiary are considered by Xenia Muratova, a professor of art history, to be "the work of different artists belonging to the same artistic milieu."[4] Due to their "striking similarities" they are often compared and described by scholars as being "sister manuscripts."[4][5] The medievalist scholar M. R. James considered the Aberdeen Bestiary ''a replica of Ashmole 1511" a view echoed by many other art historians.[5][6]


The original patron of both the Aberdeen and Ashmole Bestiary was considered to be a high-ranking member of society such as a prince, king or another high ranking church official or monastery.[1] However, since the section related to monastery life that was commonly depicted within the Aviarium manuscript was missing the original patron remains uncertain but it appears less likely to be a church member.[6] The Aberdeen Bestiary was kept in Church and monastic settings for a majority of its history.[1] However at some point it entered into the English royal collections library.[6][5] The royal Westminster Library shelf stamp of King Henry the VIII is stamped on the side of the bestiary.[7] How King Henry acquired the manuscript remains unknown although it was probably taken from a monastery.[6] The manuscript appears to have been well-read by the family based on the amount of reading wear on the edges of the pages.[6] Around the time King James of Scotland became the King of England the bestiary was passed along to the Marischal College, Aberdeen.[2][1] The manuscript is in fragmented condition as many illuminations on folios were removed individually as miniatures likely not for monetary but possibly for personal reasons.[2] The manuscript currently is in the Aberdeen Library in Scotland where it has remained since 1542.[3]



The Aberdeen bestiary is a gilded[3] decorated manuscript featuring large miniatures and some of the finest pigment, parchment and gold leaf from its time. Some portions of the manuscript such as folio eight recto even feature tarnished silver leaf.[7] The original patron was wealthy enough to afford such materials so that the artists and scribes could enjoy creative freedom while creating the manuscripts.[6] The artists were professionally trained and experimented with new techniques - such as heavy washes mixed with light washes and dark thick lines and use of contrasting color.[4] The aqua color that is in the Aberdeen Bestiary is not present in the Ashmole Bestiary.[2][6] The Aberdeen manuscript is loaded with filigree flora design and champie style gold leaf initials.[6] Canterbury is considered to be the original location of manufacture as the location was well known for manufacturing high-end luxury books during the thirteen century.[6] Its similarities with the Canterbury Paris Psalter tree style also further draws evidence of this relation.[6]


The craftsmanship of both Ashmole and Aberdeen bestiary suggest similar artists and scribes.[6] Both the Ashmole and Aberdeen bestiary were probably made within 10 years of each other due to their stylistic and material similarities and the fact that both are crafted with the finest materials of their time.[6] Stylistically both manuscripts are very similar but the Aberdeen has figures that are both more voluminous and less energetic than those of the Ashmole Bestiary.[6] The color usage has been suggested as potentially Biblical in meaning as color usage had different interpretations in the early 13th century.[4][2] The overall style of the human figures as well as color usage is very reminiscent of Roman mosaic art especially with the attention to detail in the drapery.[4] Circles and ovals semi-realistically depict highlights throughout the manuscript.[6] The way that animals are shaded in a Romanesque fashion with the use of bands to depict volume and form, which is similar to an earlier 12th-century Bury Bible made at Bury St.Edmunds. This Bestiary also shows stylistic similarities with the Paris Psalters of Canterbury.[6] The Aviary section is similar to the Aviariium which is a well-known 12th century monastic text.[7] The deviation from traditional color usage can be seen in the tiger, satyr, and unicorn folios as well as many other folios.[7] The satyr in the Aberdeen Bestiary when compared to the satyr section of the slightly older Worksop bestiary is almost identical.[3][7] There are small color notes in the Aberdeen Bestiary that are often seen in similar manuscripts dating between 1175 and 1250 which help indicate that it was made near the year 1200 or 1210.[2][6] These notes are similar to many other side notes written on the sides of pages throughout the manuscript and were probably by the painter to remind himself of special circumstances, these note occur irregularly throughout the text.[6][8][7]


Folio page 1 to 3 recto depicts the Genesis 1:1-25 which is represented with a large full page illumination Biblical Creation scene in the manuscript.[7] Folio 5 recto shows Adam, a large figure surrounded by gold leaf and towering over others, with the theme of 'Adam naming the animals' - this starts the compilation of the bestiary portion within the manuscript. Folio 5 verso depicts quadrupeds, livestock, wild beasts, and the concept of the herd.[7] Folio 7 to 18 recto depicts large cats and other beasts such as wolves, foxes and dogs.[7] Many pages from the start of the manuscript's bestiary section such as 11 verso featuring a hyena shows small pin holes which were likely used to map out and copy artwork to a new manuscript.[7] Folio 20 verso to 28 recto depicts livestock such as sheep, horses, and goats.[7] Small animals like cats and mice are depicted on folio 24 to 25. Pages 25 recto to 63 recto feature depictions of birds and[7] folio 64 recto to 80 recto depicts reptiles, worms and fish.[7] 77 recto to 91 verso depicts trees and plants and other elements of nature such as the nature of man.[7] The end folios of the manuscript from 93 recto to 100 recto depicts the nature of stones and rocks.[7]

Folio 56 Recto - Phoenix detail
Folio 56 Recto - Phoenix (detail)

Seventeen of the Aberdeen manuscript pages are pricked for transfer in a process called pouncing such as clearly seen in the hyena folio as well as folio 3 recto and 3 verso depicting Genesis 1:26-1:28, 31, 1:1-2.[7] The pricking must have been done shortly after the creation of the Adam and Eve folio pages since there is not damage done to nearby pages.[7] Other pages used for pouncing include folio 7 recto to 18 verso which is the beginning of the beasts portion of the manuscript and likely depicted a lions as well as other big cats such as leopards, panthers and their characteristic as well as other large wild and domesticated beasts.[7]

Missing Folios

On folio 6 recto there was likely intended to be a depiction of a lion as in the Ashmole bestiary, but in this instance the pages were left blank although there are markings of margin lines.[7] In comparison to the Ashmole bestiary, on 9 verso some leaves are missing which should have likely contained imagery of the antelope (Antalops), unicorn (Unicornis), lynx (Lynx), griffin (Gryps), part of elephant (Elephans). Near folio 21 verso two illuminations of the ox (Bos), camel (Camelus), dromedary (Dromedarius), ass (Asinus), onager (Onager) and part of horse (Equus) are also assumed to be missing.[7] Also missing from folio 15 recto on are some leaves which should have contained crocodile (Crocodilus), manticore (Mantichora) and part of parandrus (Parandrus).[7] These missing folios are assumed from comparisons between the Ashmole and other related bestiaries.[2][7]


Beasts (Bestiae)

Folio 66 Recto - Basilisk (detail)
Folio 66 Recto - Basilisk (detail)

Livestock (Pecora)

Small animals (Minuta animala)

Birds (Aves)

Folio 9 Recto - Panther (detail)
Folio 9 Recto - Panther (detail)

Snakes and Reptiles (Serpentes)

Worms (Vermes)

Fish (Pisces)

Trees and Plants (Arbories)

Nature of Man (Natura hominis)

Stones (Lapides)


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "History". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Morrison, Grollemonde, Elizabeth, Larisa (2019). Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World. J.Paul Getty Museum. ISBN 978-1606065907.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b c d Haupt, Lyanda Lynn (2013). Encountering the Everyday Wild. Little, Brown, and Company. ISBN 9780316178525.
  4. ^ a b c d e Muratova, Xenia (1989). "Workshop Methods in English Late Twelfth-Century Illumination and the Production of Luxury Bestiaries". In Clark, Willene B.; McMunn, Meradith T. (eds.). Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 53–63. ISBN 0-8122-8147-0.
  5. ^ a b c James, M. R. (1928). The Bestiary. Oxford: Roxburghe Club. pp. 14ff., 55–59.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Clark, Willene (2006). The Second Family Bestiary: Commentary, Art, Text and Translation. Cornwall: The Boydell Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-85115-682-7.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "The Aberdeen Bestiary - MS 24". University of Aberdeen.
  8. ^ Stiremann, Patricia (1982). La France de Philippe Auguste. Le temps des mutations. Paris: Nouvelles pratiques en matiere d’enluminure au temps de Philippe Auguste. pp. 955–980.