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Animals, Symbolism of

medieval century life art

In medieval art and literature, animals are frequently used to symbolize modes of behavior, *virtues and *vices, moral lessons, and events in the life of *Christ and other holy figures. Some animals accompany particular *saints and Old Testament figures and provide attributes for iconographic identification, deriving from the saints’ names, or from events in the person’s life .


The *Four Evangelists are associated with animal symbols . These symbols derive from visions recorded in *Ezekiel and the *Apocalypse.


Descriptions and interpretations of animals and their characteristics have a lengthy tradition in literature; the medieval illustrated bestiaries widely produced especially in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, are ultimately founded upon the influential * Physiologus text of the second century A.D. plus other sources such as the fourth-century Hexameron of Saint *Ambrose and the seventh-century Etymologiae of *Isidore of Seville. Classical authors, such as *Aristotle and *Pliny, also provided sources for later medieval encyclopedists and their Christian allegorical interpretations of animals and the world of nature.


Numerous animals mentioned in the Bible feature in narrative as well as symbolic contexts in medieval art. Proper interpretation of animal symbolism in medieval art requires study of the narratives in which animals appear as well as their use as independent motifs.


Animals with especially virtuous connotations include the humble ASS and OX (present at the birth of Christ), the dignified and temperate CAMEL , the faithful DOG , the LAMB , the courageous and vigilant LION (after three days the Lioness breathes life into her cubs, who are born dead; this symbolizes Christ’s *Resurrection), and the mighty RAM , which symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice.

Animals, The [next] [back] Animals in Egyptian Religion - SIGNIFICANCE., SACREDNESS., CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA ON EGYPTIAN RELIGION

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