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Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art


early travellers; others were the coinage of their own fancies and
their fears.
As these unreal beings are constantly met with in symbolic art, of
which heraldry is the chief exponent, it may be assumed that they
have been
[Pg vi]
adopted in each case with some obvious or latent meaning, as in
the case of real animals; they may, therefore, equally lay claim to
our consideration as emblems or types, more especially as less
attention has been devoted to them and the delineation of their
forms by competent artists. The writer has been led into
considering and investigating the subject with some degree of
attention, from finding the frequent need of some reliable
authority, both descriptive and artistic, such as would enable any
one to depict with accuracy and true heraldic spirit the forms and
features of these chimerical beings. Books of reference on heraldry
unfortunately give but a meagre description of their shapes, with
scarcely a hint as to their history or meaning, while the illustrations
are usually stiff and awkward, representing a soulless state of art.
It cannot be said that artists at any period have succeeded, even in
a remote degree, in embodying the highly wrought conceptions of
the poets concerning these terrible creatures of the imagination.
Milton seems to have carried poetic personification to its utmost
limits. Who, for instance, could depict a being like this:
“Black it stood as night,Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell!”
[Pg vii]
Out of the ambiguous and often conflicting accounts of different
authors and the vagaries of artists it became no easy task to arrive
at a clear conception of many of the forms of these ideal monsters.
The poet’s pen may turn them to shapes, shadowy at the best; but
the artist who follows the poet in endeavouring to realise and give
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