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In the Company of Animals: Art, Literature, and Music at the Morgan
March 2 through May 20, 2012

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Fables, in Greek (Southern Italy, tenth or eleventh century)
215 x 166 mm
Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) in 1908; MS M.397

Earliest Animal Fables
This manuscript, a collection of fables from various sources, includes the earliest known version of the life and fables of Aesop, the sixth-century-B.C. storyteller. In addition it contains the earliest known Greek translation of the Fables of Bidpai, animal stories of Indian origin that were translated into Arabic. The images on these pages tell a tale of best intentions gone awry. A pair of wolves is chastised by the lion king for eating young animals. In response, the wolves decide to eat only figs, but the birds, who have been starving, complain to the king, on the right. The king then summons and admonishes the wolves once again.


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Worksop Bestiary, in Latin
England, possibly Lincoln or York, before 1187
215 x 155 mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1902; MS M.81

A Book of Beasts
The bestiary, a collection of animal descriptions interspersed with biblical comparisons and moral tales, was a popular text in the Middle Ages. It is an adaptation of an earlier Greek work, the Physiologus. This manuscript is one of the earliest with fully painted pictures. " The ox is noted for its kindness to other oxen, "for each of them demands the company of that other one with whom he has been accustomed to draw the plough by the neck."


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Ibn Bakhtīshū˓, (d. 1058)
Manāfi˓-i al-ḥayavā (The Benefits of Animals), in Persian
Persia, Maragha, between 1297 and 1300, for Shams al-Dīn Ibn Żiyā˒ al-Dīn al-Zūshkī
355 x 280 mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1912; MS M.500

The King of Animals
One of the most beautiful of all surviving Persian manuscripts, this work describes the nature of humans, animals, birds, reptiles, fish, and insects as well as the medicinal properties and benefits of their various parts. The lion, according to the text, "is the strongest and most powerful" animal, yet "he is afraid of a white rooster and a mouse.... He flees from nothing as he does from a little ant." When he senses he is being followed by a hunter, "he effaces his footprints behind him with the end of his tail." As for the lion's medicinal benefits, "the tooth of a lion tied on a child makes teething easy."


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Hugo von Trimberg, (ca. 1230–ca. 1313)
Der Renner, in German
Austria, probably Tyrol, last quarter of the fifteenth century
293 x 207 mm
Purchased in 1930; MS M.763

The Lion and the Donkey
This lengthy poem, a collection of allegorical and moralizing tales drawn from the Bible, Aesop, bestiaries, and other sources, is titled Der Renner (The Runner), as Trimberg intended it to travel throughout Germany. In the image on the left, the lion has been elected king of the animals and has assembled them to report to him their names and ancestries. Attempting to hide his humble origins, the donkey is cagey about his lineage. The fox finally speaks up and reveals that the donkey owned by the baker is the donkey's father: "faithfulness and simplicity dwell in [his father], and he supports himself by honest toil and to no one does any harm." There is no shame in admitting one's humble origins.


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Aesop's Fables with His Life: in English, French & Latin
London: Printed by William Godbid for Francis Barlow, 1666
30 cm
Gift of Ruth J. Heffelfinger, 1974; PML 64797

Aesop and the Animals
Although Aesop is credited with many of the fables that are still known today—The Tortoise and the Hare, for example—no writings directly from the Greek storyteller's hand survive. This legendary edition of the fables was lavishly illustrated by Francis Barlow, one of the most accomplished animal and bird painters in seventeenth-century England. The left-hand page of the book depicts Aesop among the animals, his closeness to them confirming his reputation as the best interpreter of their thoughts and motivations: "See here how Nature's Book unclasped lies / Whose pages Aesop reads with pearcing eyes."


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Anonymous, Italian School (15th century)
Lynx and a Recumbent Unicorn. Verso: Recumbent Ibex and Dog
Brush in brown, white and black tempera, on vellum
6 3/8 x 4 3/4 inches (162 x 121 mm)
Inscribed in lower left corner, in graphite, 89
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909; I, 82

A Page From a Medieval Model Book
Unsure what a lynx looks like? If you were a medieval artist, a model book like this one would have been the place to check. Model books were essential reference works for medieval artists who wished to depict animals. Rendered in careful detail, the animals appear in profile, in static positions devoid of background. They were drawn generally not from life but copied from earlier depictions in older model books or works of art, as is obviously the case with the unicorn. Even more than one hundred years later, the unicorn was believed to exist.

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Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.