Man’s earliest drawings on cave walls were about the creatures that shared their environment. Centuries before Western artists, Asian artists executed serious paintings and sculptures of creatures like fish, frogs, lizards, birds, and insects. Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian artists produced tiles, friezes, and bronzes portraying creatures. People tamed and managed many animals for food, clothing, transport, amusement, and companionship. Artists in every culture observed and recorded the details.
Brack Brown, a senior docent at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, will give a talk on “The Art of Creatures” at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday (Dec. 5) in the Arizona Senior Academy’s Great Room.
Western murals of antiquity and painting and frescoes of Medieval Europe were replete with creatures. “In Christian images we see Adam’s naming the animals; Cain killing his brother with the jawbone of an ox; Eve listening to a serpent; Christ’s birth in a manger; stone lions guarding tombs,” Brown notes.
“We aren’t sure when we began to portray creatures simply to show their sheer variety and beauty,” Brown added. “But the greatest artists since antiquity included all kinds of beautiful creatures in their architecture, textiles, jewelry, pottery, tiles, weapons, and tombs. Trade, travel and war spread these images in wider and wider circles.”
Artists also created many mythical creatures: Brothers suckled by a wolf founded Rome. Most Egyptian gods had the heads of animals. Mermaids rescued drowning sailors. The Norse God Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, flew like Pegasus. . Art about fantasy animals became a major part of Renaissance and post Renaissance master works.
Brown and other docents at the University of Arizona Museum of Art deliver art history talks throughout the greater Tucson area. When Brown is not himself giving one of his art talks, he is often pursuing his own art interest in desert photography.
Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer