The Three Hares is a puzzling image, regarded as a topology problem: Three hares, though sometimes interpreted as rabbits, look to be chasing one another in a never-ending cycle.
Each hare is easily seen with two ears. However, when viewed as a whole, defining the hare’s ears becomes less clear, because there are only three ears present. The illusion lies in the fact that the three ears form a triangle with an adjacent hare sharing an ear.
To this day, the origins and significance of this circular motif remain a mystery. It can be spotted in central Asia, the Middle East, throughout continental Europe and even makes appearances in Britain. The featured image at top is known as Dreihasenfenster, or “Window of Three Hares”, in Paderborn Cathedral in Paderborn, Germany.
The earliest known existing examples of the Three Hares traces back to the Mogao Caves near the peaceful city of Dunhuang in northwestern China. During the era of the Sixteen Kingdoms (304 – 439), Buddhist monks were digging out cave temples. Seventeen of these caves were found to feature elaborate, tapestry-like paintings all over the ceilings, with the Three Hares at the centre of every one.
The Three Hare takes on various forms, ornamenting architecture, appearing in modern works of art, jewelry, and as a religious symbol. The meaning behind these creatures varies depending on the context and viewer, from a representation of peace and tranquility, to warding off evil forces and bringing good fortune, to a reminder to confess your sins and resist temptation.
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