Ars simia naturae: The Animal as Mediator and Alter Ego of the Artist in the Renaissance

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Past research on animals in Renaissance art has indicated their functions as signifiers of human characteristics. This study demonstrates stages in developments of Renaissance art that illustrate transitions from anthropocentric to theriocentric approaches in animal symbolism, where animals are perceived and valued in their own right. Traditional negative animal symbolism was not relinquished, but new types of animal depictions have testified to new attitudes. Iconography of the dog and the ape, for example, represents two issues relating to human-animal relationships in the Renaissance. Changing conceptions of the dog, its function in artistic narrative, as related to the artist, his self-image and awareness of the spectator, are examined. The ape became a metaphor of the universal artist and clever imitator of nature. While late-sixteenth- and seventeenth-century illustrations referring to artistic imitatio were harshly judicial, the idea of animals as mediators is demonstrated by the artist who tends not only to empathize with animals but also to identify with them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-231
Number of pages30
JournalExplorations in Renaissance culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017


  • animal symbolism
  • human-animal relations
  • iconography of dogs
  • iconography of monkeys
  • self-portraits


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