her-mind-grows-flowers  asked:

Where bestiary books popular? Tell us something about bestiary book illustrations. Did illustrators travel around the country looking for inspiration for bestiaries or did they just sit by their desk drawing imaginative monsters?

Bestiaries were very popular and had a fairly stable or consistent set of illuminations. The text derives from the ancient Greek Physiologus, however by the medieval period it was less of a scientific encyclopedia and more of a guide to the animal’s Christian symbolism and morality. 

Artists and scribes often used preexisting models when composing these texts and as a result sometimes well known animals look bizarre. At other times they had to image exotic beasts simply from spoken or written descriptions, such as elephants or dragons. 

Check out two bestiaries in our collection, the Northumberland Bestiary and another bound with two treatises by Hugo de Fouilloy.