An ancient creature compendium containing moral codes of conduct.

‘Medieval documentary evidence speaks so eloquently about animals and their relationship to society - not only in texts and images, but also in archaeological material, in social codes and rituals, in seals and coats of arms, in toponymy and anthroponymy, folklore, proverbs, songs and swear words. Whichever kind of source medieval historians explore, they cannot fail to encounter animals. Probably at no other time in the West were animals so frequently and thoroughly thought about, talked about and represented.’ - Michel Pastoreau

The bestiary is the perfect example of this medieval appreciation of the animal kingdom. These often illuminated (brightly illustrated) manuscripts reached their peak popularity in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and have captivated imaginations ever since. Based largely on several preceding works (notably the Greek Physiologus, Pliny’s Historia Naturalis and Isodore’s Etymologiae), the bestiary was an encyclopaedia of beasts, often attributing allegorical teachings to enhance a depiction of the world as it was known. In essence, animals were thought to hold a mirror to humanity, and the traits of animals were used as surrogates for aspects of human psychology or behaviour. For example, the loyalty of dogs, the purity of unicorns and the cunning of foxes are all concepts popularised by these magnificent books.

It is important to note that the bestiary was not a zoological work and was never intended to be used as such. In the Middle Ages, the imaginary was a part of reality. So little was known about the exotic, foreign lands overseas, that the idea of a unicorn was no less believeable than the idea of a rhinocerous; in fact, the two were often combined as one species. Creatures known since antiquity, as well as others recently invented or discovered, were catalogued and analysed, their character traits identified and attributed through text and illustration.

The bestiary’s contents were extremely flexible; it could feature fewer than fifty animals, or more than a hundred, and they could be ordered in any number of ways; hardly any two bestiaries are exactly alike. This collection is my own interpretation of these remarkable works, and is categorised loosely according to Isodore’s Etymologiae, which was grouped by the behavioural nature of the animals. From ‘beasts of burden’ to ‘wild beasts’, Isodore linked and partnered creatures by assessing their nature. It was not until later bestiaries that the moral teachings were attributed to each creature, when word and image would work together and individually to communicate morally edifying material in an appealing and accessible manner.  I have combined these styles to form my own rendition of the medieval bestiary.

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Inspiration

This collection was inspired by the many and varied representations of nature and animals in medieval art. Through illuminated manuscripts to stained glass windows, from tetramorphs to tapestries (and in particular The Unicorn Tapestries of the 16th century), these designs contain references to a rich era of creature captivation. The medieval collections at The Met Museum in New York, Le Musée de Cluny in Paris, and The Bodleian Library in Oxford were all great sources of inspiration. Essays by Michel Zink, Michel Pastoureau, Timothy Potts, Elizabeth Morrison and Emily Rundle were also founts of information and influence for these works.     

Process

View the collection illustrations in progress, and see how the drawings transform into detailed and intricate scarf designs. Sabina creates a story for each collection, as shown below, which is then illustrated and narrated through her elaborate handiwork.

The Campaign

Welcome to our Autumn/Winter 2021 campaign, The Medieval Bestiary.

Shop the Collection

A range of beautiful fabrics are available for each design, from classic silk twill to our sumptuous signature wool and silk blend. Each piece is printed and hand finished by the renowned artisans of Como, Italy.

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