Medieval Myths and Mascotsby 228
The scenes woven into these silks have been lifted from mythology, fairy tale and even Biblical canon. To wear clothing from such sumptuously illustrated fabric would surely feel like being dressed in the pages of a storybook, not least because of the beasts – both real and fantastical – that frequently appear. Now these animal motifs are the focus of a fascinating exhibition of medieval textiles taking place over in Switzerland, in the Abegg-Stiftung museum. For the members of the medieval elite, animals represented lineage, reputation, wealth and war. The beast chosen by a noble family to represent them said a lot about the values and virtues they wanted to be associated with. For example, a coat of arms containing a roaring bear suggested strength and cunning, while the appearance of a peacock symbolized immortality and beauty. These heraldic animals were rather similar to the mascots of modern-day sports teams; embodying qualities desired by those who displayed them. The use of animal motifs in medieval clothing and furnishings was therefore as meaningful as it was decorative: some animals, such as the pelican or the fish, were even taken to represent Christ. The meanings attributed to different animals were inspired by religious passages and mythology – rather than scientific observation. Hence there is a mystical quality to the depictions of beasts in medieval textiles and heraldry - a quality that is now on display to the public. Freund und Feind: Das Tier in der mittelalterlichen Textilkunst (Friend and Foe: the Animal in Medieval Textiles) Until 13 November 2016 The Abegg-Stiftung museum, Switzerland.
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