Animal Style


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Animal Style

 

a conventional term for a style widespread in ancient art. Distinguished by depictions of individual animals or parts of their bodies, as well as by complex compositions representing several animals, it originated among a number of peoples during the Bronze Age and became particularly widespread during the Iron Age. The origin of the animal style is linked with animal worship; depictions of sacred animals were gradually transformed into conventional ornamental motifs.

The earliest examples of the animal style are from Egypt and Mesopotamia and date from the third millennium B.C.; examples from the second millennium B.C. have been found in Southwest Asia, India, and China. In the USSR the oldest examples of the animal style date from the third millennium B.C. and are from Transcaucasia and the Northern Caucasus. The style appeared in the Volga Region, the Urals, Middle Asia, and Southern Siberia during the second millennium B.C. It appeared in its most developed form in Scythian-Sarmatian art of the Northern Black Sea Region and in the art of Southern Siberian tribes during the first millennium B.C. and the first few centuries A.D. The Scythian animal style was influenced by the art of Iran and the Near East; however, in the Northern Black Sea Shore it was significantly influenced by ancient Greek art.

Characteristics of the animal style include the keen observation of nature, realistic depictions of animal forms and movements, and dynamic compositions depicting animal combat. The most prevalent representations are of herbivorous animals, predatory beasts and birds, and imaginary creatures (for example, griffins). Animal figures were engraved on metal and molded and carved on wood and bone. Leather and felt applique and tattoos on the human body were also rendered in the animal style.

Naturalism was combined with definite conventions; figures were arranged to conform to the objects which they were ornamenting. Animals were depicted in stylized poses (for example, fighting or leaping); hoofed animals were represented with their legs tucked under their bodies and predators were shown curled up in a ball. Conventional devices were employed to render various parts of an animal’s body (for example, eyes were represented by circles, horns by volutes, and mouths by semicircles). Sometimes only a portion of an animal (for example, the head, paws, or claws), symbolizing the animal as a whole, was depicted. Animal figures were also used to decorate depictions of other animals. In the Sarmatian animal style there was a noticeable increase in schematization and in the use of conventional elements; the depictions were frequently covered with numerous colored inlays. As a result of the spread of Christian art in the West and Islamic art in the East, the animal style gradually lost its importance during the first millennium A.D. However, animal motifs remained central elements in the medieval applied arts of various peoples (particularly in Western and Eastern Europe). Depictions of animals, birds, and fantastic creatures (for example, the kitovras [centaur] and the siren) appeared in the valuable jewelry, stone carvings, and illuminated manuscripts of Old Russia.

REFERENCES

Kiselev, S. V. Drevnaia istoriia luzhnoi Sibiri [2nd ed.]. Moscow, 1951.
Rudenko, S. I. Kul’tura naseleniia Gornogo Altaia v skifskoe vremia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1953.
Artamanov, M. I. “K voprosu o proiskhozhdenii skifskogo iskusstva.” In Soobshcheniia Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha, Leningrad, 1962, issue 22.
Rostovtzeff, M. The Animal Style in South Russia and China. Princeton, 1929.
References in periodicals archive ?
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