Rare and Wondrous: Birds in Art and Culture 1620-1820
Corresponding with an age of exploration, colonialism, and the rise of the great European trading companies—including the West African slave trade—intense interest in natural history and attempts to classify and categorize it grew as specimens of plants, insects, shells, mammals, and birds were collected from around the world and brought back to Europe. In particular, ornithology, the study of birds and their classification, made great strides in the 1700s with many lavishly illustrated studies of birds being published during the century. But naturalists were not the only ones fascinated by these “exotic” birds. Monarchs and aristocrats collected them in cabinets of curiosities and menageries, artists painted them, moralizers found symbolic meaning in them, and women wore their feathers as accessories. This exhibition highlights images of exotic birds in art primarily from the 17th and 18th centuries that show how they became the objects of scientific inquiry, of popular interest, of status, and even of household decoration and personal adornment.