Bestiary: Decoding animals in Art

Madrid for kids
bestiary was a medieval book that had short descriptions of various real or imaginary animals, birds and even rocks. This kind of symbolism was well known and widespread. Any animals depicted in religious art of the time were not just animals, they were symbols.  This kind of bestiary symbolism was also found in church sculpture, where the familiar images would remind the viewer of the story and its allegorical meaning.  Some examples are given here with abbreviated meanings.  It may help when looking at religious art in Madrid.
Beaver Hunted for for medicinal oils in its testicles in the Middle Ages.  When confronted by hunters the beaver was said to bite them off and throw them at the hunters.  The message was people who want to live a proper life should cut themselves off from sin, so that the devil does not pursue

Ermine symbolises dignity purity, integrity and chastity

Great strength, wit, longevity, happiness, royalty, good luck, and ambition.

Crane and Stork piety, Close parental bond; Vigilance if holding a rock

Loving constancy and peace; the Holy Spirit; with an olive branch in its bill, it signifies a bringer of good tidings

Eagle Person of noble nature, strength, bravery, and alertness; or one who is high-spirited, ingenious, quick-witted, and judicious.  The eagle also represents Christ, who came from heaven to catch souls, just as the eagle catches fish Falcon or Hawk Person who does not rest until objective achieved Cock (male bird) Courage and perseverance; hero; able man in politics
Swallow One who is prompt and ready in doing business; also bringer of good news

Symbol of resurrection.   The phoenix lives to 500 at which time it covers itself in fragrant spices and burns to death.   Shortly after out of the ashes a new phoenix arises

Ram symbolises Authority

Swiftness, diligence, salvation, charity, and love

Rabbit or Hare One who enjoys a peaceable and retired life

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