Harley MS 4751: A bestiary with additions from Gerald of Wales's Topographia Hibernica

About this Painting

This manuscript contains a bestiary from the 'second family' of bestiaries (see James, The Bestiary (1928), pp. 15-16) with additions from Gerald of Wales's (b. c. 1146, d. 1223) Topographia Hibernica (Topography of Ireland) on Irish birds. Contents: ff. 1r-74v: Bestiary, beginning: 'Bestiarum vocabulum proprie convenit leonibus' and ending, 'ex eius calce multitudo nascatur'. It ends imperfectly with Isidore of Seville's (b. c. 560, d. 636) Etymology section devoted to plants. The text is closely related to Bodleian Library, Bodley MS 764 (see Willene B. Clark, A Medieval Book of Beasts (2006), pp. 75-76). Decoration:106 miniatures in colours of animals. Large initial on a rectangular ground in colours (f. 1r). Large initials in blue with red pen-flourishing, or in red with blue pen-flourishing. Rubrics in red. Notes in margin for the illuminator (text courtesy of The British Library).

Connection to last week's item: In Raphael's The Miraculous Draught of Fishes the animals serve as symbols that convey additional, often allegorical, meaning to the biblical scene. For example, the cranes in the foreground are common symbols of papal authority, while the swans and ravens may be a reference to a contemporay proverb about the difficulty in converting sinners, 'one may as well try to make ravens white or swans black'. Similarly, Medieval bestiaries assign allegorical and often biblical associations to various animals. In the case of the fishes, found on folio 68r, the associated text begins: 'They are called fishes (pisces), whence 'flock' (pecus), that is to say, from feeding (pascendo). Therefore they are called reptiles that swim, because they have the appearance and habit of creeping (reptanti). Although they plunge into the depths, yet they 'creep' in swimming, whence David said, So is this great sea, which strecheth wide its arms: there are creeping things without number. (PS 103:23). (Translation Clark, A Medieval Book of Beasts: The Second-family Bestiary, p. 205). To read about the symbolism of the animals in the Raphael Cartoon, see here; for an introduction to bestiary manuscripts, see here.