William Bell Scott's The Eve of the Deluge features two types of animals -- storks and cheetahs -- both clearly associated with the decadent royalty. The storks fly in the vicinity of the king and his harem, and the cheetahs, probably court pets, play near the court members.
Scott was painting under the PRB influence, which meant that every element of his piece was premeditated and planned. Therefore, incorporating the storks and cheetahs into the piece had a purpose. In order to discover the meaning behind the inclusion of these creatures, one must look to the Bible, specifically the Book of Leviticus, in which the Lord informs Moses and Aaron that certain animals are unclean and should not be eaten. The Lord says, "Every creature that moves about on the ground is detestable; it is not to be eaten. You are not to eat any creature that moves about on the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is detestable. Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures" (Leviticus 11:41-43). This category includes cheetahs.
Leviticus states earlier: "These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture . . . the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat" (Leviticus 11:13-19). The stork is also one of the unclean animals. The choice of the stork is particularly powerful. Not only is this bird considered unclean, but it also possesses a sense of what is to come in the future. According to Jeremiah, "Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons . . . But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord" (Jeremiah 8:7). In The Eve of the Deluge, then, the storks know of the impending doom, but the royalty (and mankind) do not realize this. They no longer know any of God's rules and laws of a virtuous life.
By associating the unclean animals of the Bible with the king and his retinue, Scott shows the corrupt nature of the royalty. This use of biblical symbolism and meaning is typical of PRB works.
Biblical quotations from The New International Version. Websites used: www.bible.gospelcom.net and http://www.keyway.ca/htm2004/20040222.htm.
The Fine Art Society Story. Part I. London: The Fine Art Society, 2001. Catalogue Number 129.
Last modified 21 September 2004