In the Company of Animals: Art, Literature & Music at the Morgan
Animals have provided a particularly fertile source of inspiration for artists, writers, and composers for centuries. From the carving of ancient seals with fearsome lions and mythical beasts, to the depiction of the serpent in representations of Biblical scenes by such luminaries as Albrecht Dürer, to more recent portrayals of endearing animal figures in children’s stories, such as Babar and Winnie the Pooh, animals are everywhere. The Morgan Library & Museum through May 20 is exploring the representation of animals — as symbols, muses, moral teachers, talking creatures, and beloved companions — in eighty works of art, demonstrating the varied roles animals have played in the hands of some of the most renowned artists represented in the Morgan’s collections.
“Animals abound in art, literature, and music,” said William M. Griswold, director of The Morgan Library & Museum. “Whether it is Albrecht Dürer’s iconic Adam and Eve, Edgar Allen Poe’s unforgettable The Raven, or such seminal stories from our childhood as Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar and E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, artists have employed animals throughout history to communicate important ideas and themes. In the Company of Animals takes the visitor on a delightful and informative tour of some the greatest of these works from the Morgan’s superlative collections.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
— Emily Dickinson
Animals are not always simply animals. They can represent gods, saints, myths, sins, temperaments, emotions, and ideas. Since ancient times, artists have repeatedly turned to animals to address eternal questions of life and meaning.
The oldest work in the exhibition, a Mesopotamian cylinder seal used to make an impression when rolled over damp clay, is datable about 3500–3100 B.C. Lions prowl across the surface of the inch-high engraved stone, symbolizing the potential chaos of the natural world. Order is restored, however, by the one-eyed hero who grasps two lions upside-down. His domination over such feared creatures adds to his strength and power.
The lion is one of many animals that make an appearance in Joseph Haydn’s Creation, a musical evocation of God’s creation of the world. The first edition on view shows the “roaring” lion, as represented by bass trills; the leaps of the “flexible tiger,” by ascending runs; and the jumping of the “nimble stag,” conveyed by staccato sounds reminiscent of hunting horns. Haydn, who published this first edition himself, considered Creation the “greatest work of my life.” The fall of Man as depicted in Albrecht Dürer’s masterful engraving Adam and Eve, of 1504, is witnessed and aided by animals. A serpent twists itself around a branch to offer Eve the forbidden fruit as four creatures lie at the couple’s feet. Though the references are obscure today, art historian Erwin Panofsky noted that an educated person in the sixteenth century would have easily recognized the moral connotations and the temperaments (or humors) associated with each animal: the elk, melancholic gloom; the rabbit, sanguine sensuality; the cat, choleric cruelty; and the ox, phlegmatic sluggishness.
All works: The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. All photography, unless otherwise noted: Graham S. Haber, 2011
Nicolas Hüet (1770-1828), Study of the Giraffe Given to Charles X by the Viceroy of Egypt, ca. 1827. Watercolor and some gouache, over traces of black chalk, on paper. Purchased on the Sunny Crawford von Bülow Fund, 1978
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) Adam and Eve, 1504. Engraving on paper. Purchased as a gift of Eugene V. Thaw, S. Parker Gilbert, Rodney B. Berens, Mrs. Oscar de la Renta, Elaine Rosenberg, T. Kimball Brooker, George L. K. Frelinghuysen, and on the Ryskamp Fund, the Edwin H. Herzog Fund, and the Lois and Walter C. Baker Fund
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