Arch with Beasts

Date: ca. 1150–75

Geography: Made in Languedoc-Rousillon, France

Culture: French

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: 40 in. × 74 in. × 10 1/4 in. (101.6 × 188 × 26 cm)

Classification: Sculpture-Architectural

Credit Line: John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1922

Accession Number: 22.58.1a


This intricately carved arch is said to have come from a twelfth-century church in Narbonne, in southwestern France. It is composed of seven blocks of marble on which are carved eight fantastic beasts, comprising an abbreviated visual bestiary.
Moving from left to right, we see: a manticore with a man's face, a lion's body, and a scorpion's tail; a pelican, who pierces her own breast so that her blood feeds her young, symbolizing Christ's death and resurrection; a basilisk, a cross between a cock and a scorpion that can kill with its looks; a harpy luring men to their doom with her beautiful voice; a griffin, which has the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion; an amphisbaena or dragon, which can form its body into a circle; a centaur with drawn bow; and a lion, who erases his tracks with his tail to elude hunters, symbolizing Christ's incarnation. All of these creatures, whether imaginary or realistic, were familiar to many people during the Middle Ages, and all had their specific lessons to impart.