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Whales or Dragons ?

Medieval artists seldom ever saw all the exotic animals mentioned in the Bible. They had to rely on oral descriptions. As a consequence their imagination often produced very strange creatures which had only few similarities with their living counterparts. E.g., in a museum in Paris I once saw a medieval book with illustrations of the signs of the zodiac. The artist had been told, that a scorpion is a strange beast with six legs and a tail able to sting. He thus painted a six-legged dog-like animal with two tails!

Genesis, 33 kb

This picture shows a detail from a tapestry ( century) originating from the cathedral of Garona (Spain). It is a scene from the genesis. Its lower part is dedicated to sea animals: cancer, sea-serpent, fish and two creatures which should probably represent whales or dolphins. The artist obviously had never seen his models. Based on oral descriptions he designed these strange creatures, which could be misinterpreted as sea-dragons.

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© MCMXCVII by J. Georg Friebe
& Vorarlberger Naturschau, Dornbirn (Austria)
last update 08.06.1997