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Fish-shaped door handle from Germany, an example of a zoomorphic artwork
The 'Cockerel' diadem, from Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (Lisbon, Portugal), made between 1897 and 1898 by René Lalique
Calligram of a tiger in Arabic script, an example of zoomorphic calligraphy

The word zoomorphism derives from the Greek ζωον (zōon), meaning "animal", and μορφη (morphē), meaning "shape" or "form". It can mean:

  • Art that imagines humans as non-human animals[1]
  • Art that portrays one species of animal like another species of animal
  • Art that creates patterns using animal imagery, or animal style
  • Deities depicted in animal form, such as exist in ancient Egyptian religion[2]
  • Therianthropy: the ability to shapeshift into animal form[3]
  • Attributing animal forms or animal characteristics to other animals, or things other than an animal; similar to but broader than anthropomorphism
  • The tendency of viewing human behaviour in terms of the behaviour of animals, contrary to anthropomorphism, which views animal or non-animal behaviour in human terms


Zoomorphic representation in religion[edit]

  • The appearance of the Holy Spirit like a dove in the New Testament (The Gospel According to Luke 3: 22), "and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove..."
  • Mark the Evangelist as a lion in later Christian iconography.
  • The Egyptian gods were often depicted as zoomorphic or as hybrid
  • The names of the two most prominent Hebrew Bible female prophets - Deborah and Huldah - were in the Babylonian Talmud interpreted in zoomorphic terms as "wasp" and "weasel."[4]

Zoomorphic language for things, ideas[edit]

  • A literary phrase such as "The roar of the ocean".
  • Sin lurking like a beast waiting to devour Cain in Genesis.[5]

Humanity portrayed in evolutionary context[edit]

Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo, Robert Ardrey in African Genesis and Konrad Lorenz in On Aggression all wrote from a sociobiological perspective. They viewed the human species as an animal, subject to the evolutionary law of Survival of the fittest through adaptation to the biophysical environment.[6]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hope B. Werness, The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, px. ISBN 0-8264-1525-3
  2. ^ Simson R Najovits, Egypt, Trunk of the Tree: A Modern Survey of an Ancient Land, Algora Publishing, 2004, p 279. ISBN 0-87586-201-2
  3. ^ Gerina Dunwich, Wicca A to Z: A Modern Witch's Encyclopedia, Kensington Pub Corp, 1998, p 155. ISBN 0-8065-1930-4
  4. ^ Blaženka Scheuer; Animal Names for Hebrew Bible Female Prophets, Literature and Theology, Volume 31, Issue 4, 1 December 2017, Pages 455–471, https://doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frx032
  5. ^ Synthesis: bulletin du Comité national de littérature comparée / Comitetul Național pentru Literatură Comparată, Institutul de Istorie și Teorie Literară "G. Călinescu." - 2002 "Sin is personified as (an animal?) which "crouches" at the door of Cain (Gen 4:7). As Gerhard von Rad (Genesis, 105) remarks, 'The comparison of sin with a beast of prey lying before the door is strange, as is the purely decorative use "
  6. ^ William Ickes, Compatible and Incompatible Relationships, Springer Verlag, 1985, p.26
  7. ^ Howden, Daniel (2010-08-19). "Turn left at the horn: 'Rhino City' revealed - Daniel Howden, ''9 August 2010''. The Independent". Independent.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-03-14.