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5 facts
Animals in Art
 






Pet Portraits: Do you have a pet or a favorite animal? Spend a little time observing the animal. What features do you see? What kind of “personality” does it have? Does it have distinctive abilities? Create a portrait of the animal emphasizing what makes it so special.  



Piece It Together: Picasso made Baboon and Young from a variety of everyday objects. Look around your house. What could you use to form a giraffe’s neck? An elephant’s trunk? A lion’s mane? Make a sculpture of an animal with found objects.  



More Animals in Art: Check out many more MIA objects that feature animals, using the online resource ArtsConnectEd. After viewing the collection, sort the images by animal type, habitat, or in alphabetical order. Click here to view the collection. Click here to learn more about the Art Collector feature.  



Watch and Learn: Check out the different animal cams from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. You can watch live video of Asian elephants, gorillas, pandas, and many more of your favorite animals! Keep a journal of your observations—what the animals are doing, how they interact with one another, and what they like to eat. For more information, see the Smithsonian’s animal fact sheets.  



Stories of Ganesha: There are hundreds of stories about the loveable Hindu god, Ganesha. Read stories in the children’s collection, The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha, by Uma Krishnaswami (North Haven, CT: Linnet Books, 1996). Choose a character from one of these tales and make an outline of the character’s actions, motives, emotions, traits, and feelings.  



See the Real Thing: There are hundreds of animal art objects at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Visit the museum to see how many you can find.  

April 2008


The Elephant-Headed God
Indonesia, Eastern Java, Sailendra dynasty, <I>Ganesha</I>, volcanic stone (andesite), Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Purchase through Art Quest 2003 and The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
Indonesia, Eastern Java, Sailendra dynasty, Ganesha, volcanic stone (andesite), Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Purchase through Art Quest 2003 and The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

 


The Hindu god Ganesha has the body of a plump boy and the head of an elephant. A beloved and playful god, he is known as the lord of success and remover of obstacles. He is also associated with wisdom, knowledge, and prosperity.

There are many stories as to how Ganesha got his elephant head. In one popular version, Ganesha’s mother, Parvati, created him from clay to keep her company when her husband, Shiva, was away. The figure looked so real she decided to breathe life into it.

Parvati asked her son to guard her door. When Shiva returned he was surprised to find a young boy there, especially one who claimed to be Pavarti’s son. After the boy denied him access, Shiva became angry—so angry that he cut off Ganesha’s head! When Parvati discovered what Shiva had done, she wept and begged him to find the head. Shiva looked hard, but couldn’t find it. He found an elephant that agreed to give him its head. He returned home and placed the elephant’s head on the boy’s body. Parvati breathed life into the boy again and he awoke.

Ganesha is seen as a guardian, and statues of him often decorate niches in Shiva temples. In this sculpture, a seated Ganesha eats sweetmeats from a bowl held in his lower left hand. His lower right hand grasps a broken tusk, while his other two hands hold a rosary topped with a pomegranate (a symbol of abundance) and an axe to ward off evil.


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1. Here is a family portrait. Shiva, the god of creation and destruction, sits with his arm around his wife, Parvati. Ganesha is seated near his mother’s foot. On the other side is Skanda, the god of war, who is Shiva’s eldest son.
India, Shiva’s Family (Uma-Mahaeshvara), c. 1000, buff sandstone, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Fund
2. Ganesha is often depicted in the seated lotus position. However, he is also frequently shown playfully dancing, mimicking his father, Shiva (Lord of the Dance).
Cambodia, Ganesha, 12–13th century, bronze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Michelle and David Dewey
3. Shiva, Ganesha's father, is depicted here in a dance pose.
India, Tamil Nadu, Shiva Nataraja, bronze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Mrs. E. C. Gale

 

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Paintings of Pooches
Gilbert Charles Stuart, American, <I>Portrait of James Ward</I>, 1779, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
Gilbert Charles Stuart, American, Portrait of James Ward, 1779, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

 


They say a dog is a man’s best friend. Dogs also must be great pals with artists, because these furry, four-legged friends are often found in works of art. Sometimes the image of a dog is symbolic and meant to tell us something about its owner. For example, in many Renaissance and Baroque paintings, a dog is a symbol of fidelity. Other times a dog is seen as treasured household member, who deserves a spot in the formal family portrait. And in some works of art a dog isn’t just part of the picture, but the main subject.

In this painting, a boy stands confidently with his arm around his dog. The pose, costume, and canine were all based on paintings by a prominent artist of the seventeenth century, Anthony van Dyck, who often included dogs in his portraits. He painted the dogs to match their high-society owners.

In addition to being the boy’s pet, this dog reveals some details about its owner. First, the artist cleverly discloses the identity of the boy by inscribing his name on the dog’s collar: J. Ward. Ten years old at the time of this portrait, James Ward loved animals throughout his life. He became one of the greatest animal painters of his generation, and was commissioned by England’s Board of Agriculture to paint more than two hundred portraits of livestock on farms throughout country.


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1. The placement of a dog in this portrait probably symbolized the virtuous nature of the woman.
Gabriel Metsu, Portrait of a Lady, 1667, oil on panel, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Atherton and Winifred W. Bean
2. Dogs often made their way into family portraits. If you look closely at the painting you can see that a dog is nuzzling the hand of the woman.
Nicolas de Largilliere, Portrait of Catherine Coustard, c. 1699, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Trust Fund
3. When Ward grew up he became a famous engraver and painter of animals, especially dogs and horses.
James Ward, Marengo, 1824, crayon lithograph, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Lee M. Friedman Fund

 

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Let's Monkey Around
Pablo Picasso, <I>Baboon and Young</I>, 1951, bronze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds of the John Cowles Foundation, © Estate of Pablo Picasso/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Pablo Picasso, Baboon and Young, 1951, bronze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds of the John Cowles Foundation, © Estate of Pablo Picasso/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 


Late in his life, the artist Pablo Picasso became a father again, with the birth of his son, Claude, in 1947, and daughter, Paloma, in 1949. Picasso’s young children inspired new artistic ideas, and soon he was focusing on the subject of motherhood. In his art he explored the relationships between human mothers and children, and likewise animal mothers and their young.

What kind of animal mother and young are featured here? The long muzzle, close-set eyes, round belly, and straight tail gives us visual clues that this is a baboon. If you look a little closer you may be amazed at the objects Picasso used to form the figure. The head is made up of two toy cars that may have belonged to the artist’s young son. The body appears to be created from a large ceramic jug. And the tail could be a metal slat from a shutter or a car spring. Picasso added plaster and clay to form the furry neck and other details. After assembling all of the parts, he cast the sculpture in bronze.

Attached to the mother baboon’s chest is an abstract form of an infant baboon. Although there aren’t any recognizable features on the infant, its body position mimics the way a baby baboon clings to its mother. Female baboons tend to be the primary caregivers of their young and for the first month of the youngster’s life, mother and baby stick close together.


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1. A closer look reveals the toy cars used to make the baboon’s head.
2. The handle of the ceramic jug helps form the baboon’s shoulder.
3. Infant babies hold on tightly to their mothers’ bodies. Take a moment to compare this photograph to Baboon and Young.
Picture Taker 2, Baboon Family, 2006, digital photograph by Picture Taker 2 on flickr.com

 

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Heavenly Horses
China, <I>Celestial Horse</I>, Eastern Han dynasty, bronze with traces of polychrome, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton
China, Celestial Horse, Eastern Han dynasty, bronze with traces of polychrome, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton

 


Horses were highly prized in ancient China. The military and the elite wanted powerful horses for riding and pulling elaborate carriages. During the Han dynasty (206 B.C. through A.D. 220), a superior breed of horses was discovered in the Ferghana Basin in Central Asia (modern Afghanistan). The Chinese recognized their great value and decided to obtain these horses through military force and trade along the Silk Road.

These horses were stronger, faster, and larger than any horse in China and they quickly became symbols of power and prestige. Because of their endurance and speed they were labeled “heavenly horses” and were thought to have divine powers. Unusual red foam on their skin also earned them the nickname “blood-sweating horses.” (Actually a parasite-caused skin condition produced the foam when horses’ blood mixed with their sweat.)

This statue represents one of the heavenly horses from the Eastern Han dynasty. Its power is evident in its muscular form, arched neck and spirited expression. Statues such as this one were placed in the tombs of aristocrats, along with replicas of dogs, pigs, chickens, dancers, and musicians to provide for the dead in the afterlife.


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1. Originally, this bronze horse was painted. Today, the bronze has corroded to beautiful green and blue tones. Black, red, and white pigments are still visible around the eyes, mouth, and mane.
2. Not all horse figures were made of bronze; this heavenly horse was made of clay. How does the shape and stance of this horse compare to Celestial Horse?
China, Eastern Han dynasty, Prancing Horse, earthenware with traces of pigment, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton
3. Horses weren’t the only animals to decorate tombs. This model houses a clay boar, sow, and suckling piglets.
China, Western Han dynasty, Funerary Model of a Pig Sty, earthenware, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Alan and Dena Naylor in memory of Thomas E. Leary

 

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The Thrill of the Hunt
Gustave Courbet, <I>Deer in the Forest</I>, 1868, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of James J. Hill
Gustave Courbet, Deer in the Forest, 1868, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of James J. Hill

 


People have enjoyed hunting for centuries. For some people, hunting is a matter of survival. But for the elite, it is more a stylish pastime than a necessity. Recreational hunters love the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction of a successful adventure. Because of the sport’s popularity, pictures of hunting escapades have been fashionable throughout time.

The artist Gustave Courbet was an avid hunter. His passion for the sport, along with the demand for hunting images, inspired him to paint numerous outdoor scenes. In fact, he painted more than thirty hunt pictures from 1850 through 1873. Some were paintings of hunting parties in action out in the field. Others were more peaceful scenes depicting animals at rest in their natural surroundings. Regardless of the scene, Courbet always tried to paint the animals in a sympathetic way.

Here we find two deer in a lush, wooded environment. Both are helping themselves to a tasty snack of tree leaves. The antlers on the deer in the foreground tell us that it is a stag (male). The deer in the background is probably a doe (female) because its antlers are very short. Courbet captured both deer in a moment—the stag is up on his hind legs as he reaches for leaves and the doe’s curved legs show that she is resting on the grass. If Courbet painted this pair out in the woods, he would have had to make quick observations to catch their movements. Deer are rather skittish animals and wouldn’t have been the best models to work with. Therefore it is believed that for some of his scenes, Courbet borrowed deer from a Parisian butcher.


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1. Courbet loved nature, and painted both animal scenes and landscapes.
Gustave Courbet, Château d’Ornans, 1855, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Fund and the William Hood Dunwoody Fund
2. The thrill of the hunt has been a popular art subject for centuries. This seventeenth-century tapestry shows hunters and their dogs chasing a wild hare.
Unidentified designers and cartoonists, Hunting the Hare, c. 1650, wool, silk; tapestry weave, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
3. Deer have been the subject of art for various reasons. According to the Taoist philosophy, a deer is an auspicious symbol.
China, Sung dynasty, Pillow, tz’u-chou ware, stoneware with painted decoration on white slip under a clear glaze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Eskenazi Ltd., London, in honor of Ruth and Bruce Dayton

 

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