Animal Testimony in Renaissance Art: Angelic and Other Supernatural Visitations

  • William J. Scheick


During the Renaissance, animals provided more than a source of food, clothing, medicine, labor, and companionship. They also “reflected human values, virtues, and conduct in heralds, symbols, [and] emblems.”1 The Renaissance artistic use of animals to represent specific virtues and vices—particularly as disseminated by Martianus Capella, Alanus ab Insulis and Cesare Ripa—derived from a long tradition of assumptions and associations that had been forged during classical antiquity (in Aesop’s beast fables, for example) and then allegorically embellished during the Middle Ages (in the Bestiaries, among other works). Reflecting this heritage, for instance, Renaissance art commonly relied on the horse to stand for unconscious desires, the cat for liberty (free will), the lamb for gentleness or patience, the dog for faithfulness or memory, and the songbird for spiritual detachment from the material world.


Natural Impulse Unconscious Desire Rational Soul Selected Writing Renaissance Painter 
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Copyright information

© Mary S. Pollock and Catherine Rainwater 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • William J. Scheick

There are no affiliations available

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