Bestiary Exhibit Explores Medieval Compendia of Animals

On Feb. 7, members of the Wesleyan community gathered for the opening of Bestiary, an exhibit in the Davidson Arts Center focused on the medieval compendia of animals. 

On Feb. 7, members of the Wesleyan community gathered for the opening of Bestiary, an exhibit in the Davidson Arts Center focused on the medieval compendia of animals.

The traditional book genre of the bestiary is what Curator of the Davison Art Center Miya Tokumitsu described as “a treatise on animals” in the Center for the Arts Radio Hour.

The traditional book genre of the bestiary is what Curator of the Davison Art Center Miya Tokumitsu described as “a treatise on animals” in the Center for the Arts Radio Hour.

The opening gallery talk was delivered by Kari Weil, University Professor, Environmental Studies, College of the Environment and College of Letters, Co-Coordinator for Animals Studies, and author of "Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now" (Columbia, 2012).

The opening gallery talk was delivered by Kari Weil, University Professor of Letters and author of Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now (Columbia, 2012). Weil also is University Professor, College of the Environment; co-coordinator, animal studies; and University Professor, environmental studies. “Medieval thinkers were in agreement that humans and animals shared the capacity for emotion and bestiaries were full of examples of animal feelings: lust, rage, hate, love,” she said.

"One of the questions that contemporary animal artists have raised is whether and how we might draw, paint, or sketch an animal without imposing our interpretations or anthropomorphizing. Can we see them on their own terms and what would that look like?" Weil asked in the gallery talk. 

“One of the questions that contemporary animal artists have raised is whether and how we might draw, paint, or sketch an animal without imposing our interpretations or anthropomorphizing. Can we see them on their own terms and what would that look like?” Weil asked in the gallery talk.

Works in this exhibition include an anonymous fifteenth-century engraving of a lion, a dragon, and a fox quarreling; a monumental lobster by Richard Mueller; and an ethereal anemone by Kiki Smith.

Works in this exhibition include an anonymous 15th-century engraving of a lion, a dragon, and a fox quarreling; a Kafka-esque lobster by Richard Mueller; and an ethereal anemone by Kiki Smith.

The exhibit encourages visitors to consider the various ways in which humans see and interpret animals, who are not able to represent themselves through art.

The exhibit encourages visitors to consider the various ways in which humans see and interpret animals, who are, of course, unable to represent themselves through art.

. In viewing these works, we might wonder at changing conceptions of bestial subjectivity across different cultural contexts and movements including the Renaissance, Romanticism, Surrealism, and our own contemporary moment.

In viewing these works, viewers may wonder at changing conceptions of bestial subjectivity across different cultural contexts and movements including the Renaissance, Romanticism, Surrealism, and the contemporary moment.

Cornelis de Visscher, aka Cornelis Visscher the Younger (Dutch, ca. 1629–1658). Cat Asleep, 17th century.

Weil discussed the changing representation of animals throughout different cultural movements. (Image: Cornelis de Visscher, aka Cornelis Visscher the Younger, Cat Asleep, 17th century.)

The exhibition is on display from Friday, Feb. 8 through March 7, 2019.

The exhibition is on display through March 7.

The exhibition is on display from Friday, Feb. 8 through March 7, 2019. The gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 12 to 4 p.m.

The gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. (Photos by Sara McCrea ’21)