Creatures (Real and Imagined) in Art

Creatures (Real and Imagined) in Art
With the story of "The Fall" of Adam and Eve, Egyptian sculpture and Greek mythology, many examples of snakes and unreal creatures are depicted in art. I will discuss.

From Genesis 3 (NIV), the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden are legendary. Satan disguised as a snake, tempts Eve with the apple, makes her promises. She makes the mistake of taking a bite, sharing it with Adam, thus committing sin.

The Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt is a popular tourist attraction with this mythological creature with a human head, body of a lion, and wings of an eagle. They were first mentioned 9500 BC.

A griffin, with a bird's head (usually an eagle) and a lion's body (winged or wingless) are found in the art of ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean territories. From Northern Iraq, we see a feline body, long ears, bird’s wings, and crest feathers.

In Greek mythology, Laocoon, the priest of Troy, with his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus were attacked by sea serpents. The sculpture at the Vatican Museums was attributed to three Greek sculptors from the island of Rhodes in 27 BC-68 AD, according to Pliny the Elder.

Cleopatra, queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, died in 30 BC by an asp (according to Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch, in his "Life of Augustus") or by two (2) asps as Shakespeare claims. An asp is a poisonous Egyptian serpent.

The fear of snakes is known as ophidiophobia. In the US, 3% of the population meet this diagnostic criterion.

During the Ming dynasty, artists of Chinese textiles and porcelains used dragons to guard against evil. In the Chinese culture, emperors were believed to have been descended from dragons.

The word gargoyle, from Latin 'gorge' and Old French 'gueule', means 'mouth'. These rainwater spouts on Notre Dame de Paris, as an example, represent evil and sin to the parishioners. The original date from the 12th and 13th century, and in the 19th century, some were replaced.

Other creatures on the exterior of the cathedral are 'grotesques' and 'chimeras' (mythical and human-animal hybrids).

Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli painted "Venus and Mars" (1485) with four (4) satyrs (or putties) playing with the god of war's weapons.

The difference? a satyr is a half-man, half-goat with goat ears, tail, legs, and horns. A putti is a chubby male child with wings, often unclothed.

"The Unicorn Tapestries" (Brussels, 1500) are believed to have been created to celebrate marriage. From Medieval biblical text, the unicorn's horn had the gift of purifying. Following the story in the textile, after the hunt of the unicorn, the magical horn becomes a prized trophy. It is from the Met Museum, NY collection.

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512) of the Vatican, Italy, Michelangelo painted pendentives on the sides of the prophet Jonah.

The scene is of the Brazen Serpent. From the Bible (Num 21:4-9) - The Israelites, discontented with life in the desert, spoke out against God and Moses. They were punished with a plague of poisonous snakes. The people repented, and Moses and God finally solved the problem.[Oh joy!]

In Titian's masterpiece "Bacchus and Ariadne" (1520-1523) there is speculation as to referencing Laocoon. One interpretation is that Silenus, a child of satyrs and nymphs, persuaded citizens of Troy not to take the horse to the city. The consequence? Gods sent snakes to him and his two sons.

Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio painted "Boy Bitten by a Lizard" (1593-1594). During that time, a lizard symbolized 'fire'. Although the male model has been identified by some art historians, others speculate it could be a self-portrait. It can be seen at the National Gallery, London.

Finally, Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer painted "Allegory of the Faith" (1670-1672). The woman represents the Catholic Church with one foot on the globe. The serpent in the foreground represents evil and has been crushed.

Even today, serpents such as the Loch Ness monster draw visitors to Scotland in hope of seeing this illusive reptile.

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