This beautiful creature is a detail from a work of about 1523 by the Italian Mannerist Parmigianino. The original painting portrays the Circumcision of Christ; you can see it at the Detroit Institute of Arts. As Mannerist paintings do, it has dramatic lighting, swirling motion and color, and lots of bright drapery played off against pearly white flesh. I rather like Mannerism, myself, for the sheer visual entertainment value. But this rabbit provides one quiet spot in the composition with its little ears all pushed back and its frightened eye. I want to pick it up and hide it from the fray.
Why is that rabbit there? I had to refresh myself on the possible meanings, and in the process came across what must be the best article I have ever read on rabbit symbolism in art. There I was reminded that people once believed female rabbits could conceive and give birth without male rabbits to help, and that the gentle rabbit also stood for unquestioning faith. Aha. The article is by Terri Windling, and it's a most interesting and pleasant read. (The part to which I referred is toward bottom of page 2.)