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CHAPTER IV ILLUSTRATED BESTIARIES Many Latin bestiary manuscripts were illustrated, though it is difficult to say whether or not they were in the majority,1 and it is quite rare to find a French manuscript without illustrations. England seems particularly to have favored Latin manuscripts with pictures, and illustrated Latin examples were by no means unusual in France. Indeed, the illustrations might be one of the factors contributing to the popularity of this type of work, for, as the authority on bestiaries in England, M. R. James, said, the bestiary ranked with the Psalter and the Apocalypse as one of the leading picture books of twelfth and thirteenth century England.2 From the carefully and ornately executed miniatures of the more sumptuous Latin manuscripts to those carelessly drawn and sometimes unfinished in the vernacular versions, the idea of illustrating the obvious traits of the animals and birds occurred to many artists. The subject in most cases lent itself well to visual portrayal, like the capture of the Unicorn or the Phoenix on its funeral pyre; on the other hand much ingenuity was demanded in the depiction of certain scenes which were more difficult to translate into immediately comprehensible pictures, such as that of the Onager braying at the equinox (PL VII, Fig. 2) or the Fire Stones which are male and female by nature. These are often portrayed in the form of a man and a woman holding stones and surrounded by flames. It is evident 1 None of the manuscripts of the version ascribed to Theobaldus that have been seen has contained illustrations, nor, strange to say, has any of the simple B version, but it is hard to believe that in some library in Europe there is not at present an illustrated B manuscript which somehow has been overlooked. 2 James, op. cit., p. 1. ILLUSTRATED BESTIARIES 71 that the treatment of the fabulous or rare animals offered the artist the greatest liberty for his imagination, that of the domestic animals the least, while the depiction of the birds was often perfunctory and undistinguished. In all instances, however, the pictures are valuable not only as examples of the developement of mediaeval illustration in succeeding periods, but their aid in revealing common or curious interpretations of the text is immense. This self-evident observation makes it all the more surprising that relatively little study has been devoted to the illustrations.3 It is assumed that the earliest Latin translations of the Physiologus , which, as noted before, were probably first made around the fourth century, took over the pictures of the Greek manuscripts as well as the text. Unfortunately, what is probably the oldest Greek manuscript of the Physiologus is of a much later date and contains no miniatures (Morgan 397, late tenth century),4 and the only early Greek manuscript that has been described in any detail is the Smyrna Codex of about 1100.5 Its miniatures portray not only the characteristics of the animals but also the religious allegories exposed in the text. Because this manuscript contained miniatures illustrating the Christian Typography of the sixth century author Cosmas Indicopleustes , which Stryzgowski thought was both written and illustrated at Mount Sinai, this art-historian suggested an archetype of Syro-Egyptian creation dating possibly from the sixth century for this Greek Physiologus* It appears though that the Cosmas miniatures are not of Sinaitic origin, but rather of Alexandrian,7 and 3 The only scholars who have treated the illustrations at any length, and more often than not their investigations have been focused on individual manuscripts, are Strzygowski, M. R. James, G. Druce, H. Woodruff, D. Tselos , S. Ives and H. Lehmann-Haupt, and H. Menhardt, all of whose works are referred to in the course of this study. 4 This manuscript was pointed out by B. E. Perry in his review of Sbordone's edition of the Greek Physiologus which appeared in the American Journal of Philology, LVI1I (1937), 495. 5 Josef Strzygowski, "Der Bilderkreis des griechischen Physiologus", Byzantinisches Archiv, Heft 2 (1899), pp. 1-130. This manuscript, B.8, was destroyed in 1922 when the Library of the Evangelical School was burned by the Turks. It is regrettable that Strzygowski did not publish more plates of illustrations rather than present the majority of them by written description only."^" 6 Ibid., p. 99. 7 For a recent affirmation that Cosmas wrote in Egypt, see Milton V. Anastos, "The Alexandrian Origin of the Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes", Dumbarton Oaks Papers...


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