The bestiary, a medieval book of animals both real and imagined, was one of the most popular books in medieval Europe. Detailed illustrations and descriptions of real yet unfamiliar animals like whales and elephants shared the page with those of imaginary creatures like unicorns and dragons. But the fantastical and allegorical stories in the bestiary didn’t live in the books alone—the images and stories of these animals often escaped from the pages to inhabit an array of objects and works of art, from water vessels and game pieces to enormous tapestries and painted ceilings. And these stories continue to inspire artists into the present day.
In this episode, curators Elizabeth (Beth) Morrison and Larisa Grollemond discuss the exhibition Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World, which brings together one-third of the world’s surviving Latin bestiaries as well as art objects from the Middle Ages through today that were inspired by these books.