The Fox and The Crow (Aesop) - Other Artistic Applications

Other Artistic Applications

The fable is depicted no less than three times in the border of the Bayeux Tapestry and it has been speculated that a political commentary is intended. The picture is that of an ungainly bird sitting in a tree under which an animal is lying. They are looking at each other with their mouths open, and there is some object in the air between them. The reason for pointing to this particular fable is quite clear. Harold's vanity has led him to overreach himself and so lose everything. A later tapestry on which the story is portrayed came from the Gobelins Manufactory and was designed by Jean-Baptiste Oudry.

The fable also figured in church architecture, most notably on a column in the Romanesque church of San Martín de Fromista in Spain. In later centuries the fable was used on household china, on tiles, on vases, and figured in the series of La Fontaine medals cast in France by Jean Vernon. A less conventional use was the hydraulic statue built for the Versailles Labyrinth that was constructed for Louis XIV, one of thirty nine sets of statues in the maze illustrating Aesop's fables. The fox and the crow eventually figured, among many other beasts, on the grandiose monument to La Fontaine designed by Achille Dumilâtre in 1891. This stood at the angle of the Jardins de Ranelagh between the Avenue Ingres and Avenue du Ranelagh in Paris XVI and was melted down during World War 2. It was replaced by Charles Correia's present monument in 1983. This portrays the fabulist standing and looking down at the cheese-bearing crow at his feet, while the fox gazes up at it from the steps to the pedestal.

Given the circumstances of the replacement, it is not surprising that the design is so traditional and, indeed, reminiscent of Pierre Julien's 18th century statue of La Fontaine in the Louvre. But the monuments incorporating the fable in the former Soviet territories have been more inventive and modernist. There it is the Russian adaptation by Ivan Krylov, "The Fox and the Raven" (in this case little different from his master's version), that is being alluded to. It figures among several others on panels around Andrey Drevin's monument beside the Patriarch Ponds in Moscow. Another piece of street sculpture that brings them strikingly together is the stylised monument to the famous Soviet processed cheese brand Druzhba (Friendship) on Rustaveli Street in Moscow.

In Germany the fable was popular, not simply because of Lessing's adaptation but from Martin Luther's versified translation. Several zoos there have sculptures based on the story, of which Stefan Horota has been responsible for two. In Rostock Zoo the fox looks up at a tree in which the bird is supposed to be perched. It is based on his 1965 bronze sculpture now beside a woodland path in the zoo at Gera. There a stylised crow stands with its head twisted sideways holding the cheese, while the fox sits looking upward with its snout just below the bird’s beak. Then on the wall at the entrance of the small zoo at Weißwasser there is a ceramic plaque of the fable created by the local Culture-house some time before 1990. Another bronze group was made by Karlheinz Goedtke for the grounds of an apartment block in Lübeck (1974). There is also a sandstone stele in the grounds of the Lessing Museum in Kamenz. This takes the form of a rounded trunk with a leafy canopy, beneath which the crow perches on a shorn branch with the fox looking up at it below.

In the United States the fable figured at one time as one of six bronze gate panels commissioned for the William Church Osborne Memorial Playground in Manhattan’s Central Park in 1952. The work of sculptor Paul Manship, it is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The seated fox looks up at the crow in an attractive piece that makes the most of the decorative possibilities of the reeds and oak-leaves that play a prominent part in the overall design. The challenge with this subject is always to avoid the limitations imposed by a fable that has more dialogue than action. André Deluol also manages to vary the formula in the stone sculpture he created outside the La Fontaine infant school in the Croix-de-Vernailles quarter of Etampes in 1972. There the fox look back over its shoulder at the crow in a design held together by the large leaves of a stylised tree.

Possibilities are more restricted in the two dimensional plane of a picture: whether printed or painted, these have presented an almost uniform monotony of design over whole centuries. One of the rare variations is the painted panel by Léon Rousseau (fl.1849-81) which pictures the fox crouching with one paw on the fallen cheese and bending his head directly upwards to taunt the agitated crow. There is also the 1961 print by the German artist Horst Janssen of a large striped fox looking up at a minute bird on a twig. Here it is the differences in size and the admiring prominence given the wily flatterer that constitutes its originality.

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