Animals as Disguised Symbols in Renaissance Art


The relationship between medieval animal symbolism and the iconography of animals in the Renaissance has scarcely been studied. Filling a gap in this significant field of Renaissance culture, in general, and its art, in particular, this book demonstrates the continuity and tenacity of medieval animal interpretations and symbolism, disguised under the veil of genre, religious or mythological narrative and scientific naturalism. An extensive introduction, dealing with relevant medieval and early Renaissance sources, is followed by a series of case studies that illustrate ways in which Renaissance artists revived conventional animal imagery in unprecedented contexts, investing them with new meanings, on a social, political, ethical, religious or psychological level, often by applying exegetical methodology in creating multiple semantic and iconographic levels.

Brill's Studies on Art, Art History, and Intellectual History, vol. 2
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EUR €119.00USD $156.00

Biographical Note

Simona Cohen, Phd. in Art History (1982), Tel-Aviv University, is Senior Lecturer there. She has published extensively on problems of Renaissance iconography, Venetian art and animal symbolism. Indian Art History is her second academic field of research and teaching.

Review Quote

"...a fascinating and erudite iconographical study.... the scholarship is exemplary. The book is well-written in a lively and engaging style, it is logically structured, beautifully illustrated, with an excellent index, select bibliography and epilogue. The book provides an extremely useful starting point for anyone whose work touches on animals and their meanings in Renaissance culture."
Erin Campbell, Renaissance Quarterly, 62:912–913, Fall 2009

Table of contents

List of Illustrations



1. Medieval Sources of Renaissance Animal Symbolism
Concealing the Tracks: The Physiologus and Bestiary Tradition
A Monkey on the Roof: Animal Moralizations in Exempla Literature and Sermons
Animal Moralizations in Medieval Encyclopedias
The Psychomachia Tradition and Images of Mounted Vices
2. Renaissance Naturalists and Animal Symbolism: Fact and Fantasy
Bestiaries of the Fifteenth Century: The Monsters of Pier Candido Decembrio’s De animantium naturis
The Timid Hare and Lustful Camel: Leonardo da Vinci’s Bestiary
Natural History in the Sixteenth Century
3. Emblematic Literature and Related Sources
Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Libellus: Its Sources and Influence
The Symbola et emblemata of Joachim Camerarius
The Traditional and Retrospective Aspect of the Renaissance Emblem


4. The Birds and Animals of Carpaccio’s Miles Christianus
5. The Enigma of Carpaccio’s Venetian Ladies
6. Animals in the Paintings of Titian: A Key to Hidden Meanings
7. Titian’s London Allegory and the Three Beasts of his Selva Oscura
8. Animal Heads and Hybrid Creatures: The Case of the San Lorenzo Lavabo and its Sources
9. Andrea del Sarto’s Madonna of the Harpies and the Human-Animal Hybrid in the Renaissance
10. The Ambivalent Scorpio in Bronzino’s London Allegory


Select Bibliography


All those interested in medieval and Renaissance intellectual history, medieval and Renaissance Art History, animal symbolism, bestiaries, iconography, moralistic art, and Venetian painting. Relevant to academic libraries, art institutes, museum libraries, specialists and students.