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Long before there was Instagram or even Animal Planet, there was the bestiary. A favorite form of illustrated encyclopedia of the Middle Ages in Europe, these fanciful zoological compendiums depicted real and mythic creatures with equal research and acceptance, from bunnies to unicorns, griffins and dragons to whales and wolves. The Getty Center’s new exhibition Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World is an epic survey of some 100 works representing a third of the world’s institutional holdings of this genre.

Unknown artist. Aquamanile in the Form of a Unicorn, about 1425 - 1450. German. Copper alloy. 15 1/2 × 11 1/2 × 4 7/16 in.; Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Unknown artist. Aquamanile in the Form of a Unicorn, about 1425 – 1450. German. Copper alloy. 15 1/2 × 11 1/2 × 4 7/16 in.; Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Besides a panoply of magical parchments, there are sculptures, tapestries, design objects and paintings as well as modern and contemporary interpretations. The show was curated by Elizabeth Morrison and takes its inspiration from the priceless Northumberland Bestiary (c. 1250) which lives in the Getty’s collection.

Unknown artist, Bestiary, c. 1255 - 1265. English. Parchment. 11 × 6 1/2 in.; Credit: Courtesy of the British Library

Unknown artist, Bestiary, c. 1255 – 1265. English. Parchment. 11 × 6 1/2 in.; Credit: Courtesy of the British Library

The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., Brentwood; (310) 440-7300, getty.edu; Tue. – Fri., 10am-5:30pm, Sat., 10am-9pm; May 14 – August 18; free.


Edmond Variel and Jules-Dominique Morniroli and Maurice Darantière. Bestiaire Fabuleux, 1950. French. Ink. 15 1/4 × 11 7/16 × 1 3/16 in. © 2019 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris; Credit: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Edmond Variel and Jules-Dominique Morniroli and Maurice Darantière. Bestiaire Fabuleux, 1950. French. Ink. 15 1/4 × 11 7/16 × 1 3/16 in. © 2019 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris; Credit: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Joris Hoefnagel (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 - 1600) and Georg Bocskay (Hungarian, died 1575). Gillyflower, Insect, Germander, Almond, and Frog, 1561 - 1562; illumination added 1591 - 1596. Flemish and Hungarian. Watercolors, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment Dimensions: Leaf: 16.6 × 12.4 cm (6 9/16 × 4 7/8 in; Credit: Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum

Joris Hoefnagel (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 – 1600) and Georg Bocskay (Hungarian, died 1575). Gillyflower, Insect, Germander, Almond, and Frog, 1561 – 1562; illumination added 1591 – 1596. Flemish and Hungarian. Watercolors, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment Dimensions: Leaf: 16.6 × 12.4 cm (6 9/16 × 4 7/8 in; Credit: Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum

Unknown artist, Three Panels from a Casket with Scenes from Courtly Romances, 1300 - 1350 or later. French. Ivory. 3 7/8 × 10 3/16 × 3/8 inches; Credit: Courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art

Unknown artist, Three Panels from a Casket with Scenes from Courtly Romances, 1300 – 1350 or later. French. Ivory. 3 7/8 × 10 3/16 × 3/8 inches; Credit: Courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art

Raoul Dufy (French, 1877 - 1953) and Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 - 1918), Le bestiaire, ou, Cortège d’Orphée, 1911. French. Woodcut. Copyright: © 2019 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Credit: Courtesy UC Santa Barbara Special Research Collections

Raoul Dufy (French, 1877 – 1953) and Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 – 1918), Le bestiaire, ou, Cortège d’Orphée, 1911. French. Woodcut. Copyright: © 2019 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Credit: Courtesy UC Santa Barbara Special Research Collections

Joris Hoefnagel (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 - 1600) and Georg Bocskay (Hungarian, died 1575). Gillyflower, Insect, Germander, Almond, and Frog, 1561 - 1562; illumination added 1591 - 1596. Flemish and Hungarian. Watercolors, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment Dimensions: Leaf: 16.6 × 12.4 cm (6 9/16 × 4 7/8 in; Credit: Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum

Joris Hoefnagel (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 – 1600) and Georg Bocskay (Hungarian, died 1575). Gillyflower, Insect, Germander, Almond, and Frog, 1561 – 1562; illumination added 1591 – 1596. Flemish and Hungarian. Watercolors, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment Dimensions: Leaf: 16.6 × 12.4 cm (6 9/16 × 4 7/8 in; Credit: Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum