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.
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.