Not just an Easter delight: Bunnies, hares and rabbits in art

18 Apr

However, when not busy delivering Easter eggs, rabbits and hares are also sought-after motifs in art.


No Easter bunny? No Easter!

While COVID-19 restrictions over the last two years saw muted Easter celebrations, the Easter Bunny's popularity has remained undiminished. COVID restrictions — including the wearing of masks — may have eased this year but caution is still advised.

Antonius: A timeless hare

Bunnies in all shapes, sizes and forms have long been celebrated in art. From ancient Greece to current times, rabbits and other little critters with floppy ears have always been the subject of painting and sculpture. Photo artist Antonius has this image of a hare. His naturalistic work is inspired by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. You can almost hear the crackling of the hay.

Albrecht Dürer: Young Hare

Dürer's 1502 watercolor of the Young Hare is world-famous. Reproductions of the painting used to be a common sight in living rooms across Germany. The original is so valuable that the Albertina Museum in Vienna displays the masterpiece only once every five years. The hare in this 500-year-old painting has no apparent religious or mythical symbolism.

Sigmar Polke: The hare laid bare

Dürer's famous painting has been replicated by many over the years, including German artist Sigmar Polke, who in 1970 reduced the image to a silhouette using nails and a rubber band. Polke did include Dürer's well-known "AD" monogram in the work though — a commentary on the many forgeries of Dürer's original over the years.

Greek art: Randy rabbits

Hunting rabbits was a popular pastime in ancient Greece. Because the resilient animals managed to breed quickly and maintain their numbers, they became symbols of fertility, vitality and sexual desire. So there's really more than meets the eye to this vase, dating back to the 5th century BC, where a man is seen stroking his bunny.

Some bunnies like carrots, others like grapes

The Romans depicted rabbits as connoisseurs of grapes. Many paintings, murals, mosaics and even tapestries — like this one dating back to 6th century Egypt — show bunnies with grapes. Unlike the Greeks, however, this imagery does not represent lust and desire. It's more straightforward than that: Grape-eating bunnies were eaten as they were considered a Roman delicacy.

Holy Bunnity?

This window frame, installed at the Paderborn cathedral in the 16th century, features three bunnies joined together at their floppy ears. While this kind of imagery had already been around for centuries and dated back to ancient Rome, in Christianity it came to symbolize the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Here's looking at you, kid

Yes, this actually is a bunny and not a camel. "The Hare with Amber Eyes" is a Japanese ivory carving that inspired the novel of the same name by Edmund de Waal. No bigger than a thumb, this work of art is known as a netsuke — an ornate button or toggle used to fasten kimonos or keep other items together.

Ai Weiwei: The rabbit in Chinese symbolism

The rabbit is one of 12 creatures in the Chinese Zodiac, which dates back to the 5th century BC. This contemporary bronze sculpture by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei makes reference to the long history between Europe and China. It's a reproduction of a smaller rabbit from the 18th century, later stolen by British soldiers along with sculptures of the other Chinese Zodiac signs.

Funny bunny

Rabbits also feature in Chinese art beyond the Zodiac, particularly in traditional ink paintings. But modern artists also frequently turn to bunnies for inspiration. In Beijing, you may come across this larger-than-life hare at the 798 Art Zone.


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