Insects in Art

3 minutes to read | Updated for 2019

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Scenes of honey hunting dating back 6,000 years appear in the Cave of Spiders, near Valencia, Spain. In ancient Greece, stone artists such as Phidias, Callicrates and Myrmecides enjoyed the technical challenge of creating tiny insects in sculpture. Monks in the Middle Ages faithfully copied documents and adorned them with naturalistic figures of plants and insects.

Insects also appeared as heraldic symbols on clothing and armor in medieval Europe. But it was in medieval Japan where the depiction of insects on family crests reached an artistic height in simplicity, balance, and aesthetic quality.

The family crest in Japan is called ka-mon. Ka denotes “family with own genealogical trees” and mon means “crest” or “emblem.” Ka-mons date back to the 11th century, when warring families struggled for control of feudal lands. They were used on banners, flags, weapons, and hanging screens to identify camps and headquarters.

Ka-mons served a practical purpose: crests identified men on the battlefield and became a routine part of a warrior’s survival in an era plagued by war. Masked and armor-clad Samurai wore their lord’s ka-mon into battle. The ill-fated Taira clan, which lost a decisive battle in the late Heian period, was particularity fond of the butterfly design.

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