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Orpheus Playing for the Wild Animals

by H. le Foy, 1636

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Print, approx. 19 x 11 cm, signed lower right, frontispiece in: F. Marin Mersenne, ‘Harmonie universelle, contenant la théorie et la pratique de la musique’, Paris 1636. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.

In the Greek mythology Orpheus had the talent to bring anybody to civilized morals through his enchanting singing and playing the lyre. His talent also extended to the wild animals, as shown in this picture. The scene is used here to symbolize ‘Harmonie Universelle’, the subject of a book on the theory and practice of music. The last lines from Psalm 150 were added, in which all creatures are exhorted to praise the Lord with harp and lyre. We see the lion, buck, dog, camel, dog, monkey, cat, mouse, rabbit, deer, turtle, and the horse. The position of the horse is striking. It oversees the group and shows its strong attention to the music by the high position of its head and upright neck. In the mythological story Orpheus is playing for wild animals, but this horse with its braided mane can hardly be considered as wild. Here the horse may be seen as the animal built for freedom and speed, that nevertheless is always serving man with its wonderful ability to adapt. Even in its serfdom, the horse never gives up its joy of freedom. That quality makes the horse so fascinating for artists.