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: http://www.abbeville.com/blog/?p=390)
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vair 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
Image from: http://www.abbeville.com/blog/?p=390
Image taken from Pinterest, from the page of Scrolls and Scribal SCA http://pinterest.com/pin/52565520621769458/
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
Image from: Pinterest http://pinterest.com/pin/277393658271781988/
Medieval Tile Fragments from Malmesbury Abbey
Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29320962@N07/6203279058/
Image from: http://www.scalarchives.com/web/dettaglio_immagine.asp?idImmagine=0046332&posizione=1&numImmagini=1&prmset=on&ANDOR=and&xesearch=0046332&ricerca_s=0046332&SC_PROV=RR&SC_Lang=ita&Sort=8
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)
Image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Durer-ecureuil.jpg
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer
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
Image from: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=rbc3&fileName=rbc0001_2004rosen0424page.db&recNum=341
Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling by Hans Holbein The Younger (1526-28)
Image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_the_Younger_Holbein_-_A_Lady_with_a_Squirrel_and_a_Starling_(Anne_Lovell%3F)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
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
Image from: http://starlightmasquerade.com/PortraitGallery/Ladder-Laced-Venetian/inspiration-pages/openbodice22.htm
Embroidered Bookbinding for the New Testament c. 1635
Further references to explore:
Animals in Medieval Art - Met Museum
Reframing Medieval Art: Difference, Margins, Boundaries by Madeline H. Caviness