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The Early Wildlife Art – Part 2

African cave paintings often featured animals. American cave paintings included such animal species as pelican, eagle, octopus, sardine, tea, turtles, whale, sheep, wild goat, deer, lynx, puma, and rabbits, and is known for its remarkable colour and high quality. Rock paintings from Australian Aborigines featured “X-ray” depictions, which showed an animal’s organs and bones. Australian paintings on rocks/caves feature local species of fish, turtles, and animals. African bushman rock paintings, at around 8000 BC, depicted antelope, along with other animals.

Europe’s Bronze Age resulted in a dedicated artisan class, thanks to the start of specialisation coming from the available surpluses in these societies. The Iron Age welcomed natural and mythical animals as a common subject in its art, often including decoration of such objects as plates, cups, and knives. Local Roman colonies’ art and architecture was influenced, and even outlasted by, Celtic influences.

Wildlife art in the Ancient world

History is thought to have begun when writing was invented. Evidence suggest that it was in Mesopotamia and Egypt that the first art pieces were born in. The origins in the truly great art traditions lie in the art of any one of the six-great ancient “classical” civilisations: China, India, Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia, and Ancient Egypt. Each one of these civilisations developed their very own unique artistic style.

It was common for animals to be depicted in Chinese art, including 4th-century works, which depicted stylised mythological creatures, departing from pure wildlife art. However, pure wildlife art was featured in Chinese art during the Ming dynasty, which included tigers, sparrows, swans, ducks, and other birds and animals, with increasing details and realism. In the 7th century, animals such as monkeys and elephants were featured in stone carvings in India. These depictions were religious, yet showed real animals, as opposed to mythological creatures.

Then there was Ancient Egyptian art, which included many animals, and was used with the religious and symbolic nature of its works at that time. It also showed great attention to detail and anatomical knowledge. Animals are part of Egypt’s hieroglyphic symbolic language.

The Medieval Period

This period includes Byzantine and early Christian art, along with Gothic and Romanesque art. The majority of the works that came from this time were religious, as opposed to realistic. Animals used in this period’s art were depicted in symbolism rather than representing the real world. Therefore, there wasn’t much actual wildlife art at all. A divine jaguar frequently featured in early South American art.

The Bronze Age’s greatest civilisation, the Minoans, were known to create naturalistic designs that included birds, squid, and fish. That was in their middle period. Even later in that period, wildlife remained the biggest feature of their work, which included an increasing number of species. Aristotle suggested photography as a concept in around 350 BC when he first described the formation of a crude optical image, although this wasn’t actualised until 1826.

Read more stories:

The Early Wildlife Art – Part 1

Wildlife features in some of the very earliest of all known art (pre-historic rock and cave art). Although there’s a case to say that the art is really about food more than it is about wildlife. For much of the remaining history of western art, wildlife was largely absent, as a result of the fact […]

The History of Landscape Art – Part 2

In part one of the series we delved into the beginnings of the landscape art, discussed how this particular genre evolved and changed over time. In the second part of the series we continue the narrative of the change and improvement, as well as taking a look at the modernity of the style and it’s […]

The Marine Art – Part 1

Rafts or boats, in some form or another, will likely have existed at least some 50,000 years ago. And sooner or later, along came marine art. The earliest visual reference we have of a boat dates back 8,000 years; since that time, artists have depicted boats, ships, seashores, and, of course, the ocean. It seems […]