Beasts and Butchery in Art

Beasts and Butchery in Art
Wild animals have been forever immortalized in art. Even their carcasses have been painted with reverence. How can that be, you ask? I will explain.

In Roman mythology, the story of twin brothers Romulus and Remis who found Rome, were nursed by the she-wolf Lupa.

In Iraq, massive human-headed winged bulls were mythological guardians for Assyrian palaces.

The pre-historic Lascaux cave paintings depict many animals, such as deer, cattle, bison, and the rhino.

Leonardo da Vinci's "Saint Jerome in the Wilderness" (1480-1490) shows a tame lion at the saint's feet.

Early Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delight" (1503-1515) depicts terrifying hybrids of humans/animals.

A tapestry from the Netherlands can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY is "Unicorn in Captivity" (1500).

Speaking of the rhinoceros, German artist Albrecht Durer's woodcut from 1515 is of a rhino that is an inaccurate representation because he never saw one and he depended on a letter and an unknown artist's sketch.

Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens painted "Daniel in the Lion's Den" in 1615.

Dutch artist Aelbert Cuyp is known for his pastoral scenes, as seen in "Young Herdsmen with Cows" (1655-1660).

A Quaker from Pennsylvania, preacher and artist Edward Hicks painted sixty (60) versions of "Peaceable Kingdom" where humans and animals live together in peace. One version dating from 1834 is from the Worcester Art Museum, MA.

The "killing of the fatted calf" from the Bible's Prodigal Son story may explain the still life or genre paintings of Joachim Beuckelaer's "Slaughtered Pig" (1563), Rembrandt's "Slaughtered Ox" (1655), Claude Monet's "Sill Life with Meat" (1864), Camille Pissarro's "The Pork Butcher" (1883), Chaim Soutine's "Le Boeuf" (1913), and Francis Bacon's "Figure with Meat" (1954).

Other possible explanations are that they are seen as genre paintings (scenes from everyday life) or vanitas (the inevitability of death).

Two Spaniards used the bull as symbolism in their art to represent the Spanish government and/or its people. This can be seen in Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" (1937) and Francisco Goya's "Colossus" or "The Giant" (1808).

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo painted a few variations of the same theme – "Self Portrait with Monkey" (1938 and 1940) as well as "Self Portrait with Monkeys" (1940).

From Irish figurative artist Francis Bacon, depicting disturbing images, are "Three Figures and a Portrait" (1975),"Second Version of Triptych 1944" (1988), and "Three Studies of a Crucifixion" (1962).

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