Modern dinosaur toys use outdated imagery, according to new show of mis-represented animals
German artist Albrecht Dürer’s famous woodcut of an armoured rhino, depicting a mighty specimen dispatched by an Indian sultan to the King of Portugal in 1515, has another elusive element to its tale of cross-culturalism and natural wonder 500 years ago.
© Ruth Marshall
Dürer never actually saw the Rhinoceros. The figurehead of the Northern Renaissance based his cut on a letter and sketches, creating on repute – as did George Stubbs, whose painting of a kangaroo became Europe’s first painting of a European animal when it was shown in London in 1773.
Bought by the National Maritime Museum following a public appeal in 2003, the Kongouro from New Holland is part of a chameleonic display of animal representations based purely on artists’ imaginations at the Grant Museum, including a 16th century copy of Dürer’s rhino, medieval accounts of exoticism, fake “dragon” specimens made from dried fish by sailors and knitted craft taxidermy.
“Sometimes they were created from explorers’ written descriptions,” says Dr Chiara Ambrosio, a Science and Technology expert who is one of ten researchers to have contributed to the University College London show.
“Other artists copied existing drawings but added their own interpretations of those descriptions.
© UCL Art Museum, University College London
“It is fascinating to see a change in entire worldviews reflected in the way particular images changed over time.”
Curator Jack Ashby says artists are not the only observers to have added creative license to animal portrayals.
“We also see it in the practice of taxidermy, where skins were shipped back to Europe and fleshed-out to recreate the animal based on a few notes,” he points out.
“It’s also true of modern dinosaur toys, which have been copying outdated images of fossil species for over a century.
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
“Being able to work with a group of historians, artists and scientists from such a diverse set of disciplines has allowed us to tell so many stories about the topic of animal representations.
“It’s also very exciting to see these incredible objects, like Stubbs’ kangaroo, and Captain Cook’s handwritten voyage accounts, displayed alongside the animal specimens.”
A screening of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and a knit-a-thon are among the alluring accompanying events planned for visitors during the next few months.
- You can see Strange Creatures: The Art of Unknown Animals at the Grant Museum of Zoology, London from March 16 – June 27 2015. Visit the exhibition online for more.
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© Wellcome Library, London
© UCL Grant Museum of Zoology
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