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The Plague-stricken Animals
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Jean-Baptiste Oudry
French, Paris, 1731
Brush and black ink and gray wash heightened with white gouache on blue paper
12 1/8 x 10 1/8 in.
2002.52.1

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In Jean-Baptiste Oudry's rendering of a scene from a popular fable, a group of animals gathers to discuss a plague sweeping the land. They decide that nature is punishing them for their sins, and the guiltiest among them should be sacrificed. Each animal describes its own vice, but explains it away. When the innocent but lowly donkey makes a weak case, the powerful beasts turn on him, in the moment illustrated here. The fable's moral is that social standing often determines legal judgment.

Oudry often depicted animals in his art. He was especially inspired by poet Jean de La Fontaine's Fables, a popular collection of satires written in the 1600s. Employed as a tapestry designer by day, he worked after hours over a five-year period to produce 276 illustrations of the fables. The drawings are rich in contrast, with dark ink and white heightening on blue paper. Oudry rendered them in meticulous detail, with loose and inventive brushwork. He eventually sold the drawings, which were published in a luxury edition of La Fontaine's Fables in 1755.