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Weird Animals in the Western Art

I was always intrigued by depictions of animals in some old western paintings. During the countless hours of studying art and art history, the professors never mentioned a possibility that an old master could have had a bad day, his artisanship suffering, perhaps after a long night in a local pub? The idea that some of the established painters just couldn’t pull it off and paint animals realistically would have been considered a blasphemy, since we all bowed down in front of their unquestioned talent. And yet, it is surprising how many old paintings depict a reasonably naturalistic landscape with very naturalistic people but when it comes to animals – and I am talking cows, horses and dogs here, the common domesticated animals – the painter suddenly let his imagination roam freely. Take for example the Birth of Christ by Hans Leonard Schaufelein.

The Birth of Christ by Hans Leonhard Schaufelein

Painted in early 16th century, the funny looking cows look at us with human-like eyes really upset to    be  dragged into his scene. Although Schaufelein was not an innovative painter, he could paint his figures well. Why he wouldn’t venture into a stable or just look out of his window to sketch a cow, I will never know.

Horses are generously depicted throughout the history of western art, although nobody was quite sure how to correctly paint a galloping horse. There are many examples of a horse painted in an impossible pose, either having both legs on one side lifted (in which case the horse would keel over) or galloping like this one,

Nubian Horseman at the Gallop by Alfred de Dreux

painted by Alfred de Dreux in a mid 19th century painting called Nubian Horseman at the Gallop. The horse cannot gallop with all hooves extended as was proven by an early photography done by a hot blooded crazy Englishman Eadweard Muybridge, once for all in 1877.

But even more famous painters had their share of bad animal days. My favorite French painter of frivolous lifestyle in 18th century Paris. He depicted the life of rich aristocracy with such playfulness and bright colors, that these paintings by themselves could have served as a reason to start the French Revolution. And yet, when it came to the animals, his cat

in the painting Girl Playing with Dog and Cat, looks like a plastic teddy bear from China. Perhaps the sound of guillotine unsettled him right during his finishing touches.

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