Throughout the Middle Ages, enormously popular bestiaries presented descriptions of rare and unusual animals, typically paired with a moral or religious lesson. The real and the imaginary blended seamlessly in these books—at the time, the existence of a rhinoceros was as credible as a unicorn or dragon.
Although modern audiences scoff at the impossibility of mythological beasts, there remains an extraordinary willingness by the public to suspend skepticism and believe wild stories about nature.
Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970) is one of the most neglected illustrators of the 20th century. Born in Rome, Italy, he was an Italian artist, writer and stage designer. Gnoli was an imaginative, intense and technically gifted artist. He is best known for his books Orestes (The Art of Smiling), 1961 and Bestiario Moderno (Modern Bestiary), 1968.
In Modern Bestiary, Gnoli produced an incredible collection of pen and ink illustrations that are intricately detailed and nothing short of amazing. Looking like ‘pop art’, his animal creations look like strange but lovable household pets. Who wouldn’t want a flying cat or rhino-chicken?
sources 1, 2, 3, 4
Bestiaries are among my favorite sorts of books.