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Art Diary

Fantastic Animals

22 September 2023

From lion-headed eagles in ancient Mesopotamian carvings to the unicorn in contemporary pop culture, this exhibition at the Louvre-Lens in Nord-Pas-de-Calais tells the spellbinding story of fantastical creatures in art (27 September–15 January 2024). This show of some 250 works uncovers how imaginary beasts have long provided artists with symbols for the human psyche. Tales of heroic battles often feature mythical beasts, as can be seen in a modern cast of an ancient Mesopotamian carving from Arslantepe in Turkey, which depicts a fierce battle between sea serpents and the weather gods Baal and Teshub. More recently, Salvador Dalì draws on the symbolism of the animal kingdom in his inventive The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1949), in which the saint is pictured kneeling before a train of long-legged animals – including a rearing horse, which represents strength and lust, as well as elephants carrying nude women, golden objects and phallic structures. Find out more on the Louvre-Lens’s website.

Preview belowView Apollo’s Art Diary

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946), Salvador Dali. Royal Museums of Fine Arts Belgium. Photo: © Royal Museums of
Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels/ Joan Geley; © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali/ADAGP

Saint George Fighting the Dragon (c. 1140), Paolo Uccello. Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais

Thor Fighting the Midgard Serpent (1790), Henry Fuseli. Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photo: © akg-image

Cylinder seal depicting lions and leontocephalous eagle (c. 3300–3000 BC), Mesopotamia, Iraq. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum)/Franck Raux