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A parte ficta totum fictum: Fanciful Illustrations of Sea Animals in the Liber de natura rerum and Other Medieval Encyclopedias*

Hana Šedinová

Published online:

07 Mar 2022



Six of the twenty books of Thomas of Cantimpré’s thirteenth-century Liber de natura rerum are devoted to zoology, and two of them contain descriptions of strange sea animals whose names are often hard to make sense of, both etymologically and semantically. Illuminators had to work with textual descriptions lacking essential information, and in many cases the encyplopedist himself made matters worse by focussing on the most bizarre and peculiar traits of animals encountered in his antique and medieval sources. Consequently, some of the illuminators produced images fanciful enough to make it look like they got carried away by their own imagination. However, a detailed comparison between text and image reveals that artists did their best to follow textual descriptions – it is the literal interpretation of their sources that often strikes us as unexpected and perplexing.

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