Animals have been represented in art since time immemorial; just think of the prehistoric cave paintings of bison. Animals are an important part of man’s surroundings and life, as a source of food, as helpers (hunting dogs, horses) and also as pets. Early on, the animals portrayed were ascribed human characteristics. These qualities differed from country to country and in various periods. For example, in Ancient Greece the owl stood for wisdom, while in the 16th century the nocturnal bird was associated with stupidity and sinister activities. The snake, too, is often linked to evil. The monkey stands for vice and lust, the dog for (marital) fidelity or vigilance.
However, animals do not always have a symbolic meaning in art. Sometimes they serve as an object of study or as a decorative motif. For example, 17th-century artists demonstrated their skill with meticulously rendered insects in flower still lifes.