Manāfi˓-i al-ḥayavā (The Benefits of Animals), in Persian
for Shams al-Dīn Ibn Żiyā˒ al-Dīn al-Zūshkī
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1912
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."
Fables, in Greek
Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) in 1908
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.
Worksop Bestiary, in Latin
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1902
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."
Der Renner, in German
Purchased in 1930
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.
Aesop's Fables with His Life: in English, French & Latin
London: Printed by William Godbid for Francis Barlow, 1666
Gift of Ruth J. Heffelfinger, 1974
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."
Lynx and a Recumbent Unicorn
Verso: Recumbent Ibex and Dog
Inscribed in lower left corner, in graphite, 89
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909
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.
Gray Rabbit: Old Male, Female, and Young
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1910
This drawing is a preparatory study for an image that appears in The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845–48). The text accompanying the image comments on the rabbit's pesky habits: "It often makes inroads upon the kitchen-garden, feasting on the young green peas, lettuces, cabbages, &c., and doing a great deal of mischief." On the verso of this drawing, Audubon wrote a very personal note: "I drew this Hare during one of the days of deepest sorrow I have felt in my life, and my only solace was derived from my Labour. This morning our beloved Daughter [-in-Law] Eliza died."
Gift of J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1924
St. Roch's Faithful Dog
St. Roch, the patron saint of plague sufferers, is shown here in all his agony. Resting at the base of a tree, a wound on his leg and the pain evident in his face, he is watched over by an angel. His only companion is a dog, who has brought him some bread. The legend is that this dog—in some versions, the dog was St. Roch's, and in others, the dog belonged to a local nobleman—brought bread every day and licked his wounds to heal them.
Purchased as a gift of Mrs. Peter McBean
Hippopotamus From Botswana
The English painter Samuel Daniell traveled to South Africa in late 1799, during the first British occupation. Two years later he was appointed secretary and draftsman of a government trading mission sent to Bechuanaland, now Botswana. The present drawing was done on this six-month-long expedition, during which Daniell sketched and recorded views of indigenous animals in their natural habitats. This hippo, who dominates his surroundings, appears in Daniell's book African Scenery and Animals, published in 1804.
British and Foreign Animals: A New Game, Moral, Instructive and Amusing
London: William Darton, 58, Holborn Hill, between 1811 and 1830
Gift of Julia P. Wightman, 1991
A Moral, Instructive, and Amusing Game for Children
One begins this board game on the lowly jackal and ends on the dignified lion. Lucky enough to land on the horse, you may "Spin again, for a ride on one of these noble animals." Land on the lynx, however, and you must "Go back one turn lest the piercing eye of this animal discovers your foibles." The accompanying booklet includes descriptions of each animal's habitat and behaviors as well as its attributed moral failings or strengths. The greediness of the jackal, for example, is highlighted: "They are said to attend caravans and to follow armies, in hopes of being furnished with a banquet by disease or battle."
La boîte à joujoux: ballet pour enfants
Paris: Durand, ca. 1913
James Fuld Music Collection
Debussy composed The Toy Box, a ballet for children, at the suggestion of the artist André. Hellé., who conceived of and illustrated the story. In the ballet, toys come to life, escape from their box, fall in love, and have all sorts of adventures. In this portion of the piano score, which begins on the previous page, the elephant is represented by an exotic arabesque, which Debussy claimed in a footnote was an "old Hindu chant still used today in the taming of elephants." One commentator suggests that the musical theme associated with the elephant may have first been conceived for a plan Debussy later abandoned: a book of preludes inspired by Kipling's Jungle Book.