Illustration of the fable about the lapdog and the donkey

UnknownCirca 1700

National Museum of Slovenia

National Museum of Slovenia

Fables (fabulae), which critically summarise a moral or lesson of life in the form of a story in verse or prose, have a very long history. Aesop is the most important fable writer in the European tradition, and the type of Aesop’s fables that we know today was introduced by Gaius Julius Phaedrus, who first established a uniform format. He also published an extensive Latin collection of fables. Fables were valued in the Middle Ages for the moral lessons and examples they provided. They flourished again thanks to Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695). He wrote in the introduction to his Fables that he used animals in order to instruct people. The morals of his fables raised questions about the society of his time and were thus also at times satirical. Around 1700 an anonymous artist painted a cycle of twenty-one illustrations of fables, which are now kept in the National Museum of Slovenia. The illustration for the fable about the dog and the donkey has three scenes. The ass observes his master and a lapdog. The dog stands on his hind legs and the master holds him by the front paws and plays with him. The donkey’s fate is totally different; the master spurs him and beats him with a stick. Wishing to escape from these torments and without considering the difference between himself and the dog, the donkey decides to behave like a dog. So he rises on his hind legs in front of his master and begins to lick him. The donkey’s behaviour so angers the master that he has him beaten and locked in the stable. The moral of the fable is thus that what one is allowed to do is not necessarily permitted to another.

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  • Title: Illustration of the fable about the lapdog and the donkey
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date: Circa 1700
  • Date Created: Circa 1700
  • Location Created: Unknown
  • Physical Dimensions: 85 x 69.6 cm
  • Provenance: From Castle Lemberg, FZC acquisition 1951
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Narodni muzej Slovenije
  • Medium: Oil on canvas