THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO

THE GORDION KNOT OF HISTORY
dragon lamp at the met - THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO
Dragon Lamp at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 TriciVenola

It turns out that a dragon was a symbol of Christianity. So was a foot, which represented pilgrimage. Drawing in the Met, I realized that Christianity had spread all over the Middle East long before Islam. It incorporated all the fantastic animals of the Shamanistic religions that preceded it.

peter paul and mary at the met - THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO
Peter, Paul and Mary at the Met  ©2002 Trici Venola

Thanks to the movies, the co-mingled Egyptian animal-human gods are old friends. But who ever heard of a Senmurv, a rocking-horse-like winged creature with a peacock tail?

byzantine trappings - THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO
Byzantine Trappings (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©1999 Trici Venola.
bosch delights detail - THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO
Hieronymus Bosch, Hell.detail, 16th century.

All the early Christian exhibits are full of these strange co-mingled creatures: bird-headed lions, griffins, dragons,  hippogriffs, pigs with wings. By the Middle Ages, artists were using them to populate Hell, most famously Hieronymus Bosch. The ancients combined lions and eagles and bulls. Bosch used animals he saw in Holland: frogs, birds, cats, mice, rabbits. Gradually these conglomerate fiends disappeared from Christian art, and all that is left of them now are those gargoyles on Notre Dame.

notre dame gargoyles - THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO
Gargoyles, Notre Dame, Paris 2000.

Heaven got the winged deities.

17Ramadan Women72 e1544619764179 - THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO
Ramadan Women.djinn detail ©2011 TriciVenola

The visual depictions of angels evolved from those Shamanistic figures, from fiery six-winged Seraphim to Cupid-inspired cherubs. And this powerful winged male figure: our dear and familiar djinn with a human head: the Archangel.

The Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni, 16th Century.
The Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni, 16th Century.

Next: A PRIDE OF LIONS

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