Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Animals in Medieval Art

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Animals also served as vehicles for religious allegory and moral instruction. The Bestiary developed in medieval Europe in the twelfth century. Based on the Greek Physiologus of around the second century, often with important additions from Christian scholars like Saint Ambrose, Isidore of Seville, and Rabanus Maurus, the Bestiary is a collection of descriptions and interpretations of animals, intended as both a natural history and a series of moral and religious lessons. It was widely read in the Middle Ages and served as a source for artistic invention (22.58.1). In addition to providing intriguing interpretations of animals, bestiaries offered tales about the existence of bizarre and loathsome creatures, many of which appeared in medieval art. Legends associated with these imaginary creatures proved particularly enduring. The basilisk, for example, described in Pliny the Elder's Natural History of ca. 79, is mentioned in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales of the late fourteenth century. Equated with the devil, the basilisk reputedly could kill by its very smell, by a glance, or even by the sound of its hissing. The manticore, from Persian legend, with the face of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion, possessed a seductive voice likened to the sound of a fine flute. It represented the siren song of temptation that surrounded the Christian soul on its perilous journey through an earthly existence. The centaur of Greek mythology, with the body of a horse and the upper torso of a man, was deemed particularly lustful but sensitive enough to cry in sorrow (10.37.2). (Read more.)

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