According to Greek myth, the poet Orpheus played the lyre with such magical sweetness that he charmed the animals, birds, and reptiles that gathered around him, subduing their innate hostilities. Orpheus sits in the center of the drawing focused on his music, while around him birds perch overhead, a frog, lizard, and pair of doves crouch at his feet, and horses, deer, an elephant, a goat, and a unicorn draw near.
Josias Murer belonged to a family of Swiss glass-painters who worked in and around Zurich in the late 1500s. Scholars know that he produced this drawing as a design for a stained-glass panel, since Murer left a blank border around the composition. No panel with this illustration still survives.
The theme of Orpheus charming the animals was one of the most popular among artists living in Northern Europe in the 1500s and 1600s. During this era of intense political upheaval and religious strife, the story came to express the hope in the power of art and poetry to conquer, and even resolve, irreconcilable conflict.