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Helmingham herbal and bestiary.

Additional Title(s):

Helmingham bestiary

Helmingham, Suffolk, circa 1500.
Physical Description:
1 v. ([20] leaves, with 1 blank leaf) : ill. ; 45 x 32 cm.
Rare Books and Manuscripts
Folio C 2014 4
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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Copyright Status:
Copyright Information
Archives & Manuscripts
Barker, Nicholas, ed. Two East Anglian picture books : a facsimile of the Helmingham herbal and bestiary and Bodleian ms. Ashmole 1504. (London: Roxburghe Club, 1988).
British sporting and animal drawings c.1500-1850, p. 1
Selected exhibitions: "Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art" (Yale Center for British Art, 18 April-29 July, 2007); "'The Compleat Horseman': Sporting Books from the Bequest of Paul Mellon" (Yale Center for British Art, 17 February-29 April, 2001).
Provenance: Barker (p. 54-59) speculates that the manuscript was with the Tollemache family at Helmingham Hall, Suffolk, from the early sixteenth century (there cataloged as MS Tollemache 6). Sold to Witten (Sotheby's, 6 June 1961, lot 15). Paul Mellon, 1961.
For quiring diagrams, see Barker, p. [87]. Leaves are irregularly cut; the average size is 413 x 283 mm. All leaves were originally unnumbered. Small leaf numbers were subsequently written in light graphite in the upper corner of each recto. These numbers are used for reference in the list of contents below. The leaves were originally gathered in three quires; on the evidence of offsetting, the sequence of leaves in the third quire has been rearranged. Barker speculates that two parts of the bestiary have been lost. The first, conjugate with leaf 19, would probably have contained illustrations of an "elephant, eagle, fox, cats and dogs". Also likely lost was a bifolium between 17v and 18r, which may have contained more harts and honicorns.
The manuscript was kept unbound, in a paper wrapper (not preserved), until shortly before its sale in 1961. It was subsequently bound in white pigskin, tooled in blind, by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, London.
Of green leaf, bird, and flower: artists' books and the natural world, p. 13.
Manuscript herbal and bestiary, in an unidentified hand, completed circa 1500 at Helmingham, Suffolk. The volume comprises 95 drawings of flowers and trees and 49 drawings of animals and birds, giving a remarkable picture of English knowledge of natural history in the Tudor period. The herbal and bestiary are preceded by two scroll alphabets. There are generally four drawings on the recto and verso of each leaf. All drawings are neatly finished in gouache and watercolor, with pen and ink, on parchment throughout. Names of species are written directly above each drawing, in large textura letters in pen and black ink; the initial letter of each species name is written in Lombardic style, in pen and red ink.
In most cases, the plants or animals are not drawn from nature; they are depicted to varying degrees of realism. Where plants have been drawn in a stylized manner, it is in order to portray the essential useful characteristics of each plant. The 95 illustrations of flowers and trees are presented in approximate alphabetical order and depict common species in Britain. The 49 drawings of animals and birds in the bestiary are also in rough alphabetical order, and depict fabulous creatures such as the alde (a purple hound with three-pointed tail and yellow claws), bonacon (a pink horse with yellow horns), koketrice (half rooster, half serpent), and a honicorn (unicorn). Real animals, drawn either from direct observation or as imagined from traveler's reports (occasionally with imaginary attributes), include the ape, hyena, bear, badger, beaver, ibex, rat, and leopard.
The present manuscript has a variant twin at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Bodleian Library. MS Ashmole 1504). The pair are studied together, with photographic facsimiles, in Nicholas Barker's Two East Anglian picture books : a facsimile of the Helmingham herbal and bestiary and Bodleian ms. Ashmole 1504. (London: Roxburghe Club, 1988). The two manuscripts share nearly identical pictures, with small differences in size, content, and organization. Both manuscripts are loosely connected to contemporary traditions--the Agnus Castus manuscripts in the case of the herbals, and the Hortus Sanitatis for the bestiaries--but there are significant differences in content and style. Barker speculates that they must have been copied from a common source, but the model is now lost or unknown. Printed images in Dürer's "St Eustace" and Cranach's "Adam and Eve" served as a model for some of the drawings in the Ashmole manuscript, but no image in the Helmingham herbal and bestiary is copied from those works. The Helmingham herbal and bestiary also lacks illustrations of household goods, present in the Ashmole manuscript. It is clear that the twin manuscripts were both produced in England in the early 16th century, and it is likely that both were at one time together at Helmingham Hall. The present manuscript probably predates Ashmole by about 20 years.
Barker proposes that the Helmingham herbal and bestiary may have been used as a pattern book for decorating Helmingham Hall in the early 16th century. In 1511, Lionel Tollemache began renovations to the hall (then called Creke Hall), in a traditional half-timbered style. The illustrations in the manuscript may have been used as models for a variety of decorative work, such as paneling, embroidery, or stained glass (although no such decoration has survived to confirm this hypothesis). Barker also suggests that the present manuscript (and Ashmole) may have functioned as an educational primer for children of the Tollemache family.
Subject Terms:
Agnus castus (Middle English herbal)
Animals -- Folklore.
Animals in art.
Animals, Mythical, in art.
Bodleian Library. Manuscript. Ashmole 1504.
Decoration and ornament -- England.
Helmingham Hall.
Hortus sanitatis.
Interior decoration -- England.
Plants in art.
Tollemache family.
Pattern books.
Primers (Instructional books)
Ink drawings.
Sangorski & Sutcliffe, binder.
IIIF Manifest:

  • Alphabet: Folio 1r. A scroll alphabet in blue and red, containing two As and two forms of S.
  • Folio 1v. A scroll alphabet in pink and green, containing two As and two forms of S, but no j or z. Part of the second A is formed by a snake, and the cross stroke of the R is a bearded man's face with a tail falling from the chin.
  • Herbal: Folio 2r. Affadille (Asphodel); Avence (Wood Avens); Alehode (ground ivy); Adyrtonge (adder's tongue)
  • Folio 2v. Betyne (betony); Barbere (barberry); Benez (beans); Borage (borage)
  • Folio 3r. Banire (?); Bugle (bugloss); Brohm (broom); Basilicon (basil)
  • Folio 3v. Conscelep (cowslip); Coukil (cockle); Columbyn (columbine); Colvirkeye (oxlip)
  • Folio 4r. Calamynte (calamint); Cufyre (?); Camomyl (chamomile); Daies (daisy)
  • Folio 4v. Detyre (?); Eglentier (eglantine); Duale (deadly nightshade); Dens Leonis (dandelion)
  • Folio 5r. Elebre (hellebore); Flo de Lyz (iris); Fox Gloves (foxglove); Fenel (fennel)
  • Folio 5v. Gooldes (marigold); Grymyle (cromwell); Gracia Dei (daffodil); Gylofir (carnation)
  • Folio 6r. Hemp (hemp); Hoppis (hops); Henbane (henbane); Hertztong (hearts-tongue)
  • Folio 6v. Isope (hyssop); Ienestre (?); Ienestpre (juniper); Knopwort (knapweed)
  • Folio 7r. Lely (lily); Lavendre (lavender); Lang de boeuf (bugloss); Lynsed (linseed)
  • Folio 7v. Moderwort (madder); Morett (belladonna); Malue (mallow); Mynte (mint).
  • Herbal (continued): Folio 8r. Netyl (nettle); Nepte (catmint); Orpyn (orpine, livelong); Osmondar (king fern)
  • Folio 8v. Oculus Christi; Rosemare (rosemary); Reschys (rushes); Ramsez (wild garlic)
  • Folio 9r. Rew (rue); Saffrun (saffron); Sperage (asparagus); Suage (sage)
  • Folio 9v. Medsouke (clover); Tutseyne (St. John's wort); Thysal (thistle); Tesil (teasel)
  • Folio 10r. Violet (violet); Vodrowe (woodruff); Weybrode (plantain); Wyld Tansy (tansy)
  • Folio 10v. Vyre (vine, with a snake twisted around the trunk); Walnottry (walnut, with an animal's head appearing from the trunk); Sorf (Sorbus, with a bird); Abel (?)
  • Folio 11r. Garnadez (pomegranate); Appultre (apple); Haethorn (hawthorn); Holm (holly)
  • Folio 11v. Hesyl (hazel); Homsoke (honeysuckle); Ive (ivy); Lorer (laurel?)
  • Folio 12r. Licoriz (licorice); Mulbere (mulberry); Mistleto (mistletoe); Olive (olive)
  • Folio 12v. Oke (oak); Pynapel (pine); Peche (peach); Rosez (rose)
  • Folio 13r. Aldir (alder); Aspe (aspen); Aylch (ash); Almande (almond)
  • Folio 13v. Box (box); Birch (birch); Blackbere (blackberry)
  • Folio 14. Blank.
  • Bestiary: Folio 15r. Aspida: a small brown bird with yellow beak and horse's hooves; Ape: seated and holding a fruit in each hand; Alde: a mauve hound with three-pointed tail and yellow front claws with red nails; Aena: a hyena, astride an empty sarcophagus, devouring a corpse from a grave
  • Folio 15v. A bere: a dancing bear with large collar and muzzle, tethered to the ground; A brock: a badger, diving downwards; Bonacon: a pink horse with yellow horns curving inward; Bevir: a beaver, with webbed hind feet and tail covered with pale blue scales
  • Folio 16r: Ostrych: an ostrich, holding a large nail in its beak, its egg above it; A Ram; Wolf; Wyld Man: the wodehouse, his body covered by hair, holding a serpent in his right hand and a club in his left
  • Folio 16v. Tutmose: two drawings of tits, with blue markings on their heads and tails; [Untitled]: a mole; Ratte: two drawings of rats, one running uphill, the other down
  • Folio 17r. A hynde, the female fallow deer; Hert: the male fallow deer; Ibex: a shaggy creature with curved serrated horns and two projecting tusks, prancing on his hind legs; Hert: the male red deer. Folio 17v. A dragon: green, coiled round on itself; Dromond: a gray dromedary, seated, with a shaggy tail and two shaggy humps; A dog: a mastiff, with a spiked collar; A do: a female red deer.
  • Bestiary (continued): Folio 18r. A griffon: a griffin, with blue nails. A grehond: a greyhound, couchant, with an open collar and a long lead; A hors: a horse, with grey spots, rampant; A hare: leaping forward on its hind legs
  • Folio 18v. Koketrice: a cockatrice, or basilisk, with front part of a cock and the hind part of a green winged serpent; Kokedrill: a crocodile, in whose open mouth lies the head of a maiden; A tyger: looking at his reflection in a mirror, thrown down by a hunter to distract the tiger from pursuing him; A honicorn: a gray unicorn, with head turned backwards and front feet raised
  • Folio 19r. A cone: a coney, or rabbit; Castor: a beaver, with webbed hind feet, seated in a small pool of water, biting at its castor sacs; Capre: a goat, with blue horns and bearded human face; Camel: similar to the dromedary, but with one shaggy hump only
  • Folio 19v. Leon: a tawny lion, with blue claws, climbing a tree; Liberd: a gray leopard with triple black dots; Linx: a lynx, with shaggy mane and blue claws (the names of the lynx and lizard have been transposed by mistake); Lesard: a greenish yellow lizard, with black and blue scales, highlighted in gray and white
  • Folio 20r. Four untitled animals: a pink animal resembling a lion but with long pointed ears and two small tusks; an antelope, prancing forwards; a sheep; and a brown stag
  • Folio 20v. A Reynder: a reindeer, with long and elaborate horns covering its whole body; A pant'king: intended to be a royal panther, but resembling a crowned, hornless goat. Two untitled animals follow: a reddish brown quadruped, perhaps an antlion; and a ram with long curving blue horns.

"Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower" : Artists' Books and the Natural World (Yale Center for British Art, May 15, 2014-August 10, 2014) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

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