Monday, September 30, 2013

Reference Notes - Images of Squirrel in Medieval and Renaissance Art

I recently did some research on squirrels in Medieval and Renaissance art to help me design my embroidered German brustfleck. Here are some of my notes.

Squirrels in imagery have had various symbolic meanings throughout the ages. Sometimes they were seen as symbols of grasping covetousness, and at other times they were seen as an affectionate friend. (Biographer Jonas of Bobbio describes Saint Columbanus of Ireland as having a squirrel companion.) (Ref:
The squirrels' sensible hoarding of food for winter was not properly understood and was considered greedy.

Squirrel fur was used widely in clothing. Squirrel fur was also depicted in heraldry. Vair is the representation of patches of squirrel fur in an alternating pattern.
See for more information.

Image of Squirrels in De natura rerum by Thomas of Cantimpre
Dutch translation by Jacob Van Maerlant, Flanders, c. 1350
Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, MS KA 16, 11 x 11 1/4 in. (27.8 x 20.8 cm)

Folio 68v: Squirrels

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The illustration is from a fourteenth century Book of Hours of the use of S.-Arnoul-les-Metz. It is now in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.    Image source: Beinecke MS 657. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Image believed to be in the public domain.
Image taken from Pinterest, from the page of Scrolls and Scribal SCA

The page is from a fourteenth century Book of  Hours in the Beinecke Libarary Collection of Yale University. Beinecke MS 657.

Unspecified Medieval Manuscript Fragment

Medieval squirrel!
Image from: Pinterest

Medieval Tile Fragments from Malmesbury Abbey

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Squirrel Sculpture

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This image is from a Baptistry door frame in Florence and dates from the early Renaissance. It was created by the artist Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455). Please see the SCALA archives for more lovely images and information.

Two Squirrels by Albrecht Durer (1492)

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Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was a German printmaker, painter, mathematician, theorist and engraver. He is famous for his engravings, religious works and meticulously detailed natural imagery. More information is available at

Page from 'Lart de bien viure et de bien mourir' in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress (P342)
LC control no. 48033846

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Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling by Hans Holbein The Younger (1526-28)

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This oil painting was done on an oak panel and is believed by some to depict Anne Lovell. The sitter wears Tudor clothing.

Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel by Francesco Montemezzano

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Embroidered Bookbinding for the New Testament c. 1635

This embroidered book cover is listed in English Embroidered Bookbindings by Cyril James Humphries Davenport. This book has been published as an e-book and can be found at the link above. The book was published in 1625 and bound in 1635. The binding shows the figures of Hope and Faith. The e-book gives more information about this binding, but unfortunately does not describe what stitches have been used, or the materials.

Further references to explore:

Animals in Medieval Art - Met Museum

Reframing Medieval Art: Difference, Margins, Boundaries by Madeline H. Caviness

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