Patterned Skin

We had such a fun time putting this collection of artworks together that depict animals and their gorgeous skin patterns, from the murals of ancient Egypt to contemporary fine art photography. Animal skins and prints have been used as objects of spiritual significance, markers of economic status, and symbols of glamour and exoticism through every century. They are elements wholly timeless and essential. Since there are virtually endless other artworks beyond what we selected here, we hope to update the post regularly with your contributions.
The Tomb of Tutankhamen, Reign from 1332–1323 BC, Egypt.

Inside the famous tomb of Tutankhamen are extraordinary murals depicting scenes of the young pharoah's life. In one scene he is having an ancient ritual performed, The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, by a priest with a leopard skin draped over a shoulder. This ceremony was done to Ancient Egyptian mummies and statues as it was thought to bring life back to them. Amongst the many objects discovered in the tomb, were several leopard skin outfits, which the pharaoh might have worn in his role as a priest. The leopard skin was an adornment worn by those who were believed to carry sacred knowledge and teachings about nature and the philosophies of the time.

When the tomb was discovered in 1922 it was densely packed with with an incredible array of mostly funerary objects. It's shocking to see how modern the objects feel, from the gold leopard daybed to the woven rattan-like stools.


The Procession of Dionysis, Paestan Red Figure Ware, 370 - 360 BC, Musée du Louvre Paris, France.

Paestum, located south of Naples on the border between present-day Campania and Basilicata, was founded under the name Poseidonia by the Greeks. The Paestan vase production began around 380 BC under the influence of potters and painters from Sicily. The above scene depicts the god's carrying the heads of a few unlucky mortals as Dionysos rides a panther accompanied by a castanet-playing Seilenos, a flute-playing Mainas and a Satyr. Dionysos (late called Bacchus by the Romans) was the god of wine, madness, and ecstacy, and is most often depicted riding a leopard, wearing a leopard skin, or in a chariot drawn by panthers, symbolizing his wild shifts from bliss to fury.

Fast forwarding to the common era, below is an extraordinary array of mosaics from Cyprus and Italy. The animal skins are depicted with exquisite geometry as dictated by all the small pieces of stone and marble.

Paphos Cyprus Roman Mosaic, Bacchus Chariot Scene, 3rd Century AD, Cyprus

Tigress Attacking a Calf, Marble opus sectile (325–350 AD) from the Basilica of Junius Bassus on the Esquiline Hill, Rome, Italy.

Unlike mosaic, where the placement of very small uniformly sized pieces forms a picture, opus sectile pieces (as seen above) are much larger and can be shaped to define large parts of the design and were made primarily of marble, mother of pearl, and glass.

Animals Leaving Noah's Ark, from the Story of the Flood, Mosaic, 14th Century AD, S. Marco, Venice, Italy.

During the 14th Century, in the aristocratic courts of Northern Italy and France, there developed a fascination with realistic depictions of nature, of animals and botanicals, often in the form of drawings on paper. There was a shift in translating nature from the idealized versions of the past, to the way it actually appeared in reality. As paper became more accessible, artists used sketches as a tool to plan for their larger frescoes and paintings.

Cheetah by a follower of Giovanni di Grassi, Paint on Paper, 1410, Italy.

One of the most extraordinary artworks from this period in Italy is the Magi Chapel in Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence. It includes frescoes, covering three walls by Benozzo Gozzoli painted from 1459-1461. The scene, set against a lush Tuscan landscape was supposed to depict the Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem, but was a pretext to depict the procession of important people who arrived in Florence in occasion of the Council of Florence.

Two details from the frescoes to show you the gorgeous renderings of animal skins by Gozzoli.

The German master of drawing, Albrecht Durer gave us some of the most exquisite and fantastical drawings of the natural world.

Albrecht Durer, Sketches of Animals and Landscapes, 1521, 265 x 397 mm, Pen, black ink, gray and rose wash on paper, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-22, Oil on canvas, 175cm x 190cm, National Gallery, London, England.

In numerous artworks from the 16th Century to the 19th Century, Bacchus is surrounded by or adorned in leopard skin as mentioned above. The leopard was one of the primary symbols artists' used to depict the wild nature of his character.

Jan Miel, Cares, Bacchus and Venus, Oil on Canvas, 1645, Private Collection.

Nainsukh of Guler, Raja Balwant Dev Singh on a Tiger Hunt, 1750, Opaque pigments and gold on wasli, 7.87" x 16.87", Private Collection.

Artist unknown, Tippoo's Tiger, 1793, Mechanical organ, painted wood with metal fixtures, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.

"Tippoo's Tiger" was made for Tipu Sultan, the ruler of South India from 1782-1799. The almost life-size wooden semi-automaton consists of a tiger attacking a figure in European clothes. An organ is concealed inside the tiger's body, and when a handle at the side is turned, the organ can be played and the man's arm simultaneously lifts up and down. The tiger was the personal symbol of Tipu's throne, and this dark and curious object was his symbolic triumph over the British.

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Portrait of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), 18th C., Pastel, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

A beautiful portrait of the famous French dancer, choreographer, and writer, with a wonderful collar detail in leopard.
The 19th Century brings us to a period heavily influenced by travel, by the exotic, and the desire to bring the objects of far away places back home. With the advent of the railroad and steamship, lands that were little known to Westerners became easier to access. Other influences were a result of England's imperial control over lands in China, India, Africa, and the Pacific. By mid-century, many non-Western forms and ornamental motifs had found their way into the vocabulary of all European art form and became a symbol for the wealthy, cultured, and traveled.

Eugène Delacroix was once described by the French poet Charles Baudelaire as “a volcanic crater artistically concealed beneath bouquets of flowers.” While drawing on Classical history and mythology, Delacroix had a lush and spontaneous ability to paint, using vivid colors, and powerful compositions full of movement. Delacroix was fascinated by the exotic, and traveled to Turkey, Greece, North Africa, and Morocco. His masterfully rendered scenes are seductive yet often reveal nature in the midst of violent action.

Eugène Delacroix, Count de Mornays Apartment, 1832-1833, 16.13" x 12.75", Oil on Canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Eugène Delacroix, Tiger Hunt, Oil on Canvas, 1854, 73.5cm x 92.5cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France.

A daguerreotype from a series of male and female nude models who were photographed at Eugène Delacroix's request by Eugène Durieu, in 1854.

Frederic Louis Leve, Harem Beauty Seated On A Leopard Skin, late 19th C., Oil on Canvas, Private Collection.

Fernand Khnopff, The Sphinx or The Caress, 1896, Oil on Canvas, 19.7" × 59.1", Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema brings us some of the most romantic paintings from the Victorian era, depicting ancient scenes with modern figures and attitudes. He had a passion for rendering luxurious textures, so he brings us a gorgeous selection of animal skins as seen below.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra, 1885, Oil on Canvas, 25.75" × 36", Private Collection, New York.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Cherries, Oil on Canvas, 1873, 31" x 50.75", Private Collection.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, In the Tepidarium, 1881, Oil on Panel, 24cm x 33cm, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, England.

Henri Rousseau Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo, 1908, Oil on Canvas, 66.9 x 74.6", Cleveland Museum of Art

Otto Dix, Woman Lying on a Leopard Skin, 1927, Oil on Panel, 27 1/2"  x 39", Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell Museum, New York.

Irving Ramsay Wiles, Gladys Wiles in a Leopard Coat (The Leopard Coat), 1915, Oil on Canvas, 60" x 38.37", National Academy of Design, New York.

An undated photograph of one of our favorite artists, Louise Bourgeois. Working well into her ninties, she is quite possible one of the most important modern/contemporary artists. With a passionate and rebellious spirit, Bourgeois utilized art as a vehicle to examine her anxiety, her womanhood, motherhood, sex, and memory. She's an unrestrained force of nature, quite appropriately cloaked in leopard.

Luc Tuymans, Leopard, 2000, Oil on Canvas, 55 1/8" × 50 1/2", Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Anders Peterson, Paris, 2006, Black and white digital print on matte paper, 38" x 26", Private Collection.

Mickalene Thomas's paintings and photographs are richly layered with art historical references from the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, still life and pop culture. Her works, often made with rhinestones, enamel and colorful acrylics, provide a unique perspective on contemporary gender and race issues. Her works are an endless play of patterning, including lots of animal print.

Mickalene Thomas, Lovely Six Foota, 2007, C-print, 48.3" x 59.3", Image Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

Mickalene Thomas, La Lecon d'amour, 2008, Rhinestone and acrylic on panel, 96" x 120", Image Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

Craigie Horsfield, Circus, Placa de Torros La Monumental, Gran Via de les Cortes Catalanes, Barcelona, February 1996 (Tiger)
2010, Wool, cotton, and synthetic yarn tapestry, 153.5" x 433", Collection of the artist and Marvelli Gallery.

Hope you enjoyed all the artworks we put together here. What have we forgotten? What would you like to include? Please send us more images in the comments below and we'll keep posting!


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