Historic monster manuals aid hunt for house’s mythical menagerie
Throughout the cavernous halls and winding corridors of Temple Newsam House, a magnificent menagerie of legendary creatures is waiting to be found.
Now a series of antique monster manuals and the skeletons of long extinct animals will be offering some old school insights for visitors as they search the mansion for dragons, unicorns and griffins.
The historic texts will be on display as part of the attraction’s upcoming Fantastical Beasts exhibition, which opens later this week and challenges visitors to follow the trail of fabled fauna around the house.
To help with the hunt, two replicas of late medieval bestiaries are on loan from the University of Leeds’s Brotherton Library which catalogue an array of mysterious creatures as well as a book of historical maps from 1584 which charts oceans teeming with terrifying monsters.
An 18th century medicine book entitled A History of Drugs depicts no less than five different types of unicorn while a collection of Australian folk tales explains how the duck-billed platypus came to be.
The books will be displayed alongside a fossilised icthyosaurus, a dolphin-like Jurassic marine reptile which once ruled the seas, and pelvis of a dodo, the ill-fated birds which were hunted out of existence in the 1660s.
Leila Prescott, who has curated the exhibition, said: “Throughout human history there has been an enduring fascination with monsters and mythical creatures which is reflected in so many aspects of our culture.
“Today, we know those creatures exist only in our imaginations, but as we can see on the pages of these fascinating books, when science wasn’t quite so advanced and we knew less about the world around us, beasts like the dragon, unicorn and cockatrice were once considered as real as the crocodile or tiger.
“Those historical attitudes to animals combined with our timeless love of legends can be seen in abundance here at Temple Newsam in intricate carvings, artwork and ornaments all around the house. Our hope is that this exhibition will fire the imaginations of visitors of all ages, leading them on a hunt for those creatures and in turn helping them see the house in a completely different way.”
As well the spellbinding books, the exhibition will also feature an eye-catching new commission by award-winning sculptor Kate MccGwire, whose work has been displayed at London’s Saatchi Gallery, the Museum of Art and Design in New York and the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris.
Entitled Paracosm (Restrain), her stunningly imaginative new piece gives a contemporary twist to the stately home’s traditional display of preserved feathered game and hunting spoils.
An interactive family area called The Lair will give younger visitors a chance to dress up while a special exhibition room, The Bestiary, will showcase items from across the Leeds Museums and Galleries collections.
Fantastical beasts runs until November 3, 2019. For more details including opening ours and admission, please visit: https://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/templenewsamhouse/exhibitions/fantastical-beasts