Unicorns, sphinxes, fauns, mermaids, dragons, and griffins are all creatures springing from human imagination. They appear in art everywhere and at all times. Many of these imaginary or mythical creatures come from mythological stories, fairy tales and legends. They are often wicked and dangerous, and are usually made up of a combination of different animals: a griffin is part eagle, part lion; a faun is a human with the hind legs of a horse or a goat; in Ancient Greece a sphinx is a woman with the lower part of an eagle, and in Egypt a man with the lower part of a lion. The familiar mermaid is part human, part fish.
The unicorn is an example of a mythical animal that recurs in stories throughout the world in widely varying descriptions. Artists let themselves be carried away and even created animals with ten heads or six legs. In art these ‘monsters’ frequently appear as the terrifying guardians of shrines or precious objects. Many mythical creatures are described in bestiaries – treatises about animals and their characteristics.