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The Bestiary Tiger

Once owned by William Morris and now in the Pierpont Morgan Library (MS 81), this is one of the earliest painted bestiaries and was given to the Worksop Priory in 1187. It belongs to the so-called Transitional Family of bestiaries (1185-1260), which adhere to the order of beasts from Physiologus but add new material from Isidore, and group birds, fish, and reptiles at the end.

Royal 12 C.xix dates to about 1200-1210 and now is in the British Library. It, too, is a transitional bestiary, the family in which the tiger first appears.

Bodley 764 is another example of the luxury manuscript and dates to about 1220-1250. Together with Harley 4751, with which it is closely related, this bestiary may be the only one that can be ascribed to secular patronage, as is surmised from the coats of arms in its illustration of the elephant and castle. Women, too, are depicted in scenes that lack them elsewhere, and, when animal species are presented, the female is shown more often than in other manuscripts. Bodley 764 would seem intended, therefore, to appeal particularly to well-born ladies and may have been commissioned by the baron whose shield is so prominently displayed in the illumination of the elephant. The tiger, which is from Barber (1993), is unusual in that it is presented apart from the hunter. The moral, as the tigress stops to retrieve what she thinks to be her abandoned offspring, is that "the intensity of her motherly love betrays her, and deprives her of both her revenge and her cub."

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