The Fox

Fox eating grapes, ca.1224-59, pulpit, cathedral of Sessa Aurunca

Fox eating grapes, ca.1224-59, pulpit, cathedral of Sessa Aurunca (click to enlarge)

The fox is a deceitful creature, full of guile. It never takes a straight path, preferring one that winds. Hungry for meat, it lays about pretending to be dead, then, when birds draw near, it pounces, devouring them. Foxes lurk in vineyards, where, hiding among the leaves, they fret away the vines, gnawing at all the grapes.

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The tiny Fox eating grapes, located on one of the pulpit’s historiated capitals, displays a great delicacy of carving, visible particularly in the fine treatment of the fur around the neck, befitting its subject’s subtle guile. The fox’s deceitful ways, its artful hunting of birds being just one example, led bestiary authors to associate it with Satan. In Christian art, images of foxes eating grapes represent their diabolical nature: they bring ruin to the vineyard in which they lurk, furtively snatching grapes (Christians) from the vine (Christ.)

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4 responses to “The Fox

  1. I was wondering are there examples of fox imagery that pre-date the Christian period associated with vineyards? There are quite a lot of dog depictions in Roman works, but I don’t remember noticing foxes, but I assume there must be some.

    • I don’t know for certain, but I don’t think so. The theme developed rather late, and it seems not to exist even in early Christian art. (Vineyard imagery had a different scope then too.) There is at least one classical source for foxes in vineyards: Aesop’s fables, but the narrative and moral are different.

  2. That’s strange isn’t it? There must have been foxes all over the world of Late Antiquity and the Early Christian period, but I guess they weren’t potent or bad enough when compared with snakes and scorpions.

    • I do wonder about how foxes were perceived earlier…I know that in other cultures they are considered tricksters and are ambiguous rather than being thought of as evil.

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