This study integrates the bestiary into the social history of art through an examination of twenty-eight manuscripts produced in England during the twelfth, thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The analysis of the reception of the bestiary by different types of readers - religious and lay, male and female - links selected bestiary entries to specific social political, economic and theological concerns of significance at the time that the manuscripts were produced and read; special attention is devoted to bestiary characterisations of women and Jews. The first comprehensive analysis of text and images that takes both an iconographical and semiotic approach to the imagery, this study also takes into account the aesthetic dimension of these works. It challenges, moreover, the pervasive thesis that the bestiaries were collections of standard texts and images intended for religious contemplation. By tracing their changing functions across the centuries and evaluating them in the broader context of medieval intellectual history, bestiaries are shown to be a dynamic genre.
Table of Contents1. The manuscripts; 2. On method; 3. In one ear: the weasel; 4. The good friend: the stag; 5. The model citizen: the bee; 6. The heretic: the fox; 7. Born again: the Phoenix; 8. Clean living: the beaver; 9. The loving child: the Hoopoe; 10. The harlot: the siren; 11. Burning love: the fire rocks; 12. The ideal spouse: the elephant; 13. The idolatrous Jew: the hyena; 14. The true panther; 15. Changing functions; Abbreviations; Notes; Bibliography; Appendix.