The Northumberland Bestiary (13th century) is an encyclopaedia of animals, both real and imagined, named after previous owner, the Duke of Northumberland. It is not known who commissioned the manuscript.
A bestiary is an illustrated text which presents the characteristics of real and imagined animals as symbolic reflections of man’s relationship with God, in order to teach moral lessons to readers. For every animal there is an illustration accompanied by a short text which describes the animal’s appearance and behaviour.
The logical beginning for a bestiary is the story of the creation of the animals as the text implies that every animal is a direct reflection of God’s plan for the world. The Northumberland Bestiary lives up to this tradition, opening with a full page feature depicting Adam naming the animals.
The Northumberland Bestiary features 112 coloured ink drawings of real and imaginary creatures.
History of ownership
The Bestiary had been acquired by forebears of the dukes of Northumberland by the late 1600s. However, it was only made known publicly in 1950 by the tenth duke, Henry Percy.
The 11th Duke of Northumberland sold the Bestiary in 1990 at a Sotheby’s auction. The manuscript was bought by Nicholas Poole-Wilson of Bernard Quaritch, a London gallery, for $5.8 million.
In 2007, the J. Paul Getty Museum purchased the bestiary. Though it is not known who sold the manuscript or how much the museum paid for it, some experts believe that it was somewhere in the range of $20 million.
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