Hunt for dragons and unicorns in Leeds at this Temple Newsam House exhibition

A new exhibition inviting visitors to follow a trail hunting for legendary and mythical creatures will open its doors this week.

Thursday, 28th March 2019, 4:03 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th March 2019, 4:33 pm
Leila Prescot, curator at Temple Newsam House, adds the final items to the upcoming Fantastical Beasts exhibition in Leeds. Picture: Tony Johnson.

A series of antique monster manuals and skeletons of long-extinct animals will be among the items to feature at Temple Newsam House's new Fantastical Beasts display.

Opening this week, it aims to use historic texts to offer insights into fabled creatures like dragons, unicorns and griffins and "fire the imaginations" of visitors of all ages.

Visitors will be invited to follow a trail in search of the beasts, using two replicas of late medieval bestiaries which, on loan from the University of Leeds’s Brotherton Library, catalogue an array of mysterious creatures.

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A book of historical maps from 1584, charting oceans teeming with terrifying monsters, will also form part of the display.

Meanwhile, an 18th-century medicine book, called A History of Drugs, depicts 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 historic books, the display will also feature an eye-catching new commission, created 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.

Her new piece, called Paracosm (Restrain), gives a contemporary twist to the stately home’s traditional display of preserved feathered game and hunting spoils.

Elsewhere, 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.