Art and Design

Exploring Art and Defining Design

Which Animal has been the most influential to Zoomorphic Design?


Palaeolithic Horse, Cave painting.


Several years back, I finished a book on Zoomorphic Design. (4000 Animal, Bird and Fish Motifs). This entailed a year’s research into the historic cultures, styles and movements of the past. After an untold number of hours spent poring through books, drawing the designs and motifs, compilation and indexing, I was left wondering what animal had been the most popular source for inspiration to the designers and craftsmen over the millennia.

In front of me were 4000 animal designs that make up the book “4000 Animal, Bird and Fish Motifs” ranging from the Palaeolithic, the Neolithic, the civilizations of the Middle East, from the Chinese, Japanese, Nomadic Steppe Tribes, Egyptians, the Aegean cultures, Byzantine, Medieval, Islamic, right through to the Arts and Craft and Art Deco movements.

The animals that were in the starting blocks were the Deer, the Dog, the Ibex, the Lion, the Hare, the Bovine, the Boar and the Horse. The best way to ascertain their popularity was to do a count.



Horse 161

Lion 128

Deer 109

Dog 103

Bovine 96

Ibex 65

Hare 56

Boar 34


An Islamic motif of a Hare

From this count, one may deduce – the horse to be the animal most inspirational to artists, with the lion a close second. This of course is not a scientific census, simply because my own prejudicial nature might have influenced me into selecting more horse and dog designs. Another influence on my selection might simply have been the fact that many deer designs are similar to each other, and therefore when it came to drawing, I simply eliminated repetition. The deer was a species known to most civilizations, cultural groups and movements, and therefore, understandably would score high. The horse being probably the most influential of species (having contributed to the rapid movement of peoples and cultures, not to mention armies) would undoubtedly score high. Dogs as “man’s best friend” and the only animal that every civilization culture and people were acquainted with, also will rate high on the list. The lion, a species confined only to the Middle East, India and Africa scored amazingly high. Its influence, (as in Medieval Art) lies in a reputation not carried by visual experience, but by hearsay, legends and crude representations. One can see this fact as late as the 1867 erection of the monument in Trafalgar Square, London. The recumbent lions rest in a fashion wholly unnatural to lions in a zoo or the wild, in truth more as long-legged hounds do. The lion’s widespread popularity would give weight to any argument that this species is the most popular. Felines as a group (lions, tigers, cats, leopards, jaguars) accounted for 203 of the designs in the book “4000 Animal, Bird and Fish Motifs”, indeed, far greater than equines, bovines, rodents or antelopes.

After all the arguments for or against an animal’s popularity with artists and craftsmen, I conclude that the Horse has had the most influence. Not only because it appears in my book the most number of times, but because it appears in paintings, drawings, logos, motifs, designs, etcetera. – more often than any other species.

Graham Leslie McCallum


The lion makes a fine second appearance on the list, especially considering its geographical absence from many parts of the world.


A Celtic Boar.





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