How animals feature in design - from cave paintings to wallpaper

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Since humans have roamed the earth, they have decorated their dwellings to individualise them. Right from the beginning, animals played an important role in terms of decorations. Wall design underwent huge transformation over the centuries - not just with regards to meaning and significance, but in terms of materials and methods, too. From cave paintings to elaborately crafted tapestries to wallpaper - let’s explore this development a bit closer.

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Art on Cave Walls

Cave paintings date back to the upper Palaeolithic, about 40,000 years ago. The oldest examples were found in the El Castillo cave in Spain, the Abri Castanet or the Chauvet cave in France. And the indigenous peoples of South Africa or Australia are still practising cave painting. Science offers a number of theories as to why ancient humans began to paint on the walls of their dwellings. Some think that the paintings are meant to create a connection between life and the afterlife, a kind of homage to those who once lived. Others, however, are of the opinion that their purpose was to process experiences. That the paintings were a means of passing on information to subsequent generations. Both scientific camps seem to agree on one thing though: that cave paintings weren’t art for art’s sake. Mammals were amongst the most popular motifs: bison, wild horses, aurochs, deer, lions, or mammoths. Other animals, for instance fishes, birds, or insects, were rarer. The paint was not applied to the rock face in a random manner - instead, the “painters” observed the structure of the rock and used it to give their characters depth and character.

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Tapestries as wall décor

To cover draughty areas and keep the warmth inside the living quarters, animal skins, and later woollen blankets, were used. This led to the development of the craft of weaving, one of the oldest crafts on earth. There are indications that tapestry was used in ancient Egypt, and pictures of looms can be found on vases from ancient Greece. But the Middle Ages were the true heyday of tapestries. Not only were they useful and functional, but these large, artful weaving works told stories, too. Besides repeated patterns, they feature flowers, animals, religious or battle scenes, etc. Noblemen commissioned special tapestry works to celebrate and extol their own lives and virtues. Animals often featured along the borders, as repeated elements framing a scene. In hunting scenes, however, they took centre stage. Tapestries are often especially captivating due to their immense attention to detail. Talented weavers managed to make the finest details extremely realistic. But these works aren’t small-scale - they often cover huge areas. Many of these tapestries can still be admired in castles and museums. They attract the eye and enchant the beholder.

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Wallpapers replace tapestries

Wallpapers were first created in the Orient and gradually replaced tapestries. The latter were often very valuable, so that noblemen took them with them when travelling, leaving behind cold and unadorned walls. This was of course quite unsightly, which is why they soon set out to find alternatives. The first “wallpapers” were fashioned from leather and parchment. The 15th century saw the introduction of paper-based wall décor which was glued to the walls. These were no more than pieces of paper that were printed on in a more or less elaborate manner and arranged on the wall. In the 16th century, Chinese paper wallpapers found their way to Europe. This spurred particularly the English and French on to create their own versions. Up to the 18th century, patterns were printed onto the paper by hand, until industrial processes were introduced. The first wallpaper printing press opened its doors in Germany in 1789. When it came to their choice of patterns, manufacturers were influenced by the zeitgeist and the tastes of the times. Today, there is a sheer endless variety of patterns and motifs so that everyone can design their home interior exactly to their preferences.

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Animals in wallpaper

In terms of wall design, animals played a significant role for a very long time. Although they were temporarily less popular, they are now re-claiming their deserved position in the world of wallpapers. However, the motifs have changed somewhat. Where they once featured large-scale depictions of animals, the emphasis is now on delicate details. Huge mammals on the walls are a thing of the past. Instead, the eye is drawn to little bunny rabbits hopping across the walls, or kittens which lend a playful air to any room. The more delicate and intricate, the better. Tiny birds with brightly coloured plumage create an atmosphere of lightness. With a joyous display of colourful butterflies, we start the day in a dream-like manner. Some wallpapers just feature an animal detail, like stunning peacock feathers, for instance. They lend a romantic touch to your walls. But animal wallpapers aren’t just for grown-ups. Children love pretty, cute, enchanting little playmates on their walls, too. Monkeys, foxes or elephants are good examples. And with wallpapers featuring whales or wood creatures, children’s imaginations let them dive deep into the ocean or explore a magical forest.

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