Baboons, birds, and lions at the Jewish Historical Museum  4 March 2013

Exhibition to showcase animals in art

From 29 March to 1 September 2013, a colourful collection of monkeys, camels, owls, and other animals will be on display at the Jewish Historical Museum. For centuries, animals have decorated Jewish ceremonial objects, and they have provided endless inspiration to visual artists. The exhibition Beastly beauty: Animals in art sheds light on their important role. Objects from the museum's own collection will be complemented by loans from Artis, the Teylers Museum and Beelden aan Zee.

Mantelbaviaan van Jaap Kaas

Ever since the early Middle Ages, images of animals have appeared in Jewish ceremonial art. These decorations often refer to the biblical tradition, which gives a central place to animals, such as the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In the fine arts, too, animals have always played a prominent role, whether they are portrayed realistically or used as symbols of supernatural forces. 

In the late nineteenth century, artists became newly interested in animals. This was partly due to the rise of zoological parks (zoos), such as Artis in Amsterdam. Students at Amsterdam's art academy made animal studies with living and dead models. 

The Jewish artists Joseph Mendes da Costa, Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, and Jaap Kaas were leading lights on the Amsterdam art scene in the early twentieth century. The animal world was central to their work. Artis Zoo's location, in the heart of what was then Amsterdam's Jewish district, was one factor that helped them establish their artistic reputations. They spent a great deal of time there, working on preliminary studies. Kaas visited the zoo daily and became unofficially known as the 'sculptor of Artis'. 

The work of Mendes da Costa, Jessurun de Mesquita, and Kaas, along with that of other artists such as Armando, Eli Smalhout, and David Bueno de Mesquita, will be on display in the Print Room at the Jewish Historical Museum from 29 March to 1 September.

The press event for this exhibition will take place on Thursday 28 March 2013 at 10.00. You can sign up in advance by e-mail.


For images or more information, please contact:

Barbara Reuten, Marketing and Communication Department

+31 (0)20 531 0370 or mail