It’s not uncommon for artists to include animals in their art, and it’s rarely without a deeper meaning behind it. It’s never just a painting with a bee on the corner of a spectacular canvas, that bee is potentially a statement made about the abundant cycle of life. The most amazing part of buying art that depicts animals is that an animal can add another dimension of history and symbolism to any artwork. Depending on which culture, mythology and philosophy you use as a tool of interpretation – animals can have different meanings, but they’re never entirely without. If you’re not sure what art to buy but you want something with depth, animal artworks are always an easy choice.
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This post will talk about some of the most common animal motifs in artwork and explain the different symbolism behind them from varied perspectives. Hopefully, you leave feeling a heightened sense of appreciation for animal artwork and more confident in collecting artwork with animals.
Generally, birds have symbolized wisdom, freedom and love. They’re the divine mediator and links to mystical realms. However, different birds carry different meanings. Ravens, for example, are known as symbols of war and deadly misfortune. However, in ancient Egyptian tales, the first deity to appear after the chaotic process of creation was a bird, called the Benu bird. In Jewish tradition, the dove is a soul guide which leads the human soul on its journey in the after life.
Some cultures believed that shamans and prophets were able to transform into birds during trances and spiritual states. As seen in the wildly popular series Game of Thrones, the character Bran was called the “three-eyed raven” because of his ability to see different realms of reality through the eyes of a raven. Thus, we learn that birds also symbolize transcendent consciousness and foreseeing.
In “The Return of Happiness” by Ramana Moshiri, we see a masterful depiction of a bird in relation to mirroring symbols of spirituality, fate and rebirth – “…that hand is the divine help”, Moshiri explains.
Among the Native American tribes, bears are very common and respected figures with medical powers. Folklores portray bears as very noble beings and moral judges who punish disrespectful behavior among people and animals. Sometimes bears are told as gullible and stupid in old tales, while they’re aggressive and intimidating in others.
To say the least, bears are one of the most symbolically dynamic animals in the realm of storytelling and mythology. In the Japanese folktale Tsukina Waguma, a single hair from the “crescent moon black bear” who lived in the mountain, was the main ingredient to healing one’s inner anger.
This incredible drawing “Bear” by Naghshine is an imaginative and witty play between the powerful delicacy of a butterfly and the strong characteristics of a soft bear.
In ancient middle eastern myths, cats were connected with the sacred feminine. They were a protective soul and defender of women and children. Cats are signified by fertility, resourcefulness, curiosity and provocation. Cats are the embodiment of supernatural grace with a foot into the spiritual realm, they’re known to be loving companions on the condition that their autonomy is never violated.
Gallerima Youtube: Watch Yosra Fahmy live paint animals, including a majestic lion
In Hebrew folklore, Lilith was banished from the Garden for refusing to submit herself to her partner Adam – after which she shapeshifted into a black vampire cat and sought revenge. For some, Lilith represents a woman’s defense of her independence and equal worth. For others, Lilith’s radical act is part of the reason why black cats are seen as demonic beings who shouldn’t be trusted.
Shown here with fierce looking eyes with a natural attentiveness, “Quarantined Pussy” by Sanna Tairi captures the essence of a cat in the presence of its companion.
The turtle is usually the most underestimated but also most capable animal. Between the turtle and the rabbit, the rabbit grows arrogant in his self-assured upper hand due to viewing the turtle’s slow-moving characteristic as a weakness. However, the turtle wins the race in the end, signifying the victorious quality of patience in life. In the same sense, the Aztec turtle is often seen as misunderstood because of its hard exterior which covers the true softness and vulnerability inside. People who connect to turtles as their spirit animal often relate to the inner conflict of one’s inner sensitivity being unseen.
“Turtle Atlantis City” is a magnificent painting that captures the strength of a turtle’s shell. The home that the turtle is carrying in the image is a fusion of Sweden and Atlantis. The artist Alex Colard charmingly describes the place as his “imaginary utopia”.
If you want to know more about how you can interpret the different meanings behind art, read our tale of four paintings. As an art collector and art lover, it can be helpful to know the symbolism behind the objectives in different artworks. Research the details and elements of a painting you enjoy so that you can understand the many nuances that the art entails – or just stay tuned while we do it for you at Gallerima Magazine. A piece of art has many layers of interpretations – the artist’s, yours and the world’s. It can be an exciting journey to find out what different cultures and folktales say about the paintings and drawings you’re invested in. At Gallerima, we believe the deeper the story; the more valuable is the art.