Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Inspired by All the Wildlife

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Inspired by All the Wildlife

Article excerpt

IN THE COMPANY OF ANIMALS: ART, LITERATURE AND MUSIC

The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Ave. at 36th Street; 212- 685-0008 or themorgan.org.

Through May 20. 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $15, $10 for students, seniors and children. Free on Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m.

Animals have a preeminent place in the history of art. They were the first things that primitive humans drew. The Ice Age occupants of the caves of Chauvet in southern France rendered 13 kinds of animals, including horses, antelopes, rhinoceroses, bison, reindeer, lions, panthers, bears, owls and hyenas. But not a single human. The closest things to a person are a few handprints and a blurry creature that seems to be a bison with a woman's lower half.

No one knows why this is. The human subject has certainly caught up in popularity in today's world, but that's a fairly recent development in a parade of art that goes back 30,000 years.

Such thoughts come to mind at a charming and informative exhibit mounted by the Morgan Library titled "In the Company of Animals: Art, Literature and Music." There are no cave paintings here, of course. The earliest piece you'll see is a 5,000-year-old Mesopotamian cylinder seal, an engraved tubular stone that stamped the image of prowling lions (and an ancient lion tamer) into damp clay.

A wide net

The exhibit casts a wide net, pulling in examples from stories, satire, children's books, poems, cartoons, natural history, paintings and memoirs. Among the big name animals are Babar the elephant, Snoopy the beagle, Edgar Allan Poe's raven, E.B. White's trumpet-playing swan and William Blake's tiger (or "tyger," as he spelled it).

There are also some major-league animal-lovers represented, including Adam and Eve, who lived in harmony with animals until they were booted out of the Garden; the mythical Orpheus, who charmed animals with his lyre, and St. Francis of Assisi, shown in a 13th- century Belgian prayer book preaching to an audience of birds.

And don't forget Aesop, the sixth-century B.C. Greek storyteller, who is depicted by 17th-century illustrator Francis Barlow surrounded by adoring listeners - not children, but the animal subjects of his stories. …

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