The Aberdeen Bestiary, created in England in around 1200 and first documented in the Royal Library at Westminster Palace in 1542, has been on display for the very first time at the exhibition Gilded Beasts.
Bestiaries were illustrated books of animals, some real and some mythological, used to provide Christian moral messages. They were popular in the 12th and 13th centuries but few were as lavishly produced as the Aberdeen manuscript, which has been in the care of the University for almost four centuries.
Renowned for its exquisite illustrations and covered in gold leaf, it is one of the best preserved books of its kind still in existence and offers an unrivalled insight into medieval manuscript production methods.
Gilded Beasts will close on Saturday June 18 and the bestiary will return to safe storage. Its fragile nature means it is unlikely to be shown in this way again for a generation.
The Bestiary first came to Aberdeen in 1625 when it was bequeathed to the University’s Marischal College by Thomas Reid, a former regent of the College and the founder of the first public reference library in Scotland.
Reid, who served as Latin secretary to King James VI and I, is said to have been given the book by his friend Patrick Young, son of the Royal Librarian to the King.
The beautiful manuscript has been seen by over 4,000 visitors since the exhibition opened at the end of June and it has been turned to a different page each week to show a range of lavish illustrations and text.
This final week tells the stories of the Lizard and the Salamander in pages full of gold leaf and dramatic colour.
It is the first summer exhibition hosted at the Gallery in the Library on Bedford Road and it has been the most popular exhibition programme to date.
Professor Jane Geddes, academic advisor to the exhibition, said: “The Bestiary is like a medieval encyclopaedia and was written to appeal to the general public and to teach children how to read – it was specifically designed to draw you in and that appeal has stood the test of time.”
Siobhán Convery, Head of Special Collections at the University of Aberdeen, added: “The Aberdeen Bestiary is a remarkable resource which offers a fascinating insight into the medieval mindset.
“We were delighted to be able to put in on public display for the first time and have had an exceptional response to the exhibition.
“We hope people will take this final opportunity to come and see one of the finest examples of medieval craftsmanship still in existence.”
Gilded Beasts is open Thursday and Friday from 10am to 4pm and from 1pm to 4pm on Saturday.
The Gallery will then be transformed to host Pharmacopeia an exhibition featuring rare and fascinating printed and manuscript material that demonstrates some of the earliest recorded interpretations of the natural sciences.
Opening on September 1 to tie in with the British Science festival, it will also include contemporary scientific research and practice at the University of Aberdeen including cutting edge examples from the Marine Biodiscovery Centre as well the Kosterlitz Centre for Therapeutics.