Birds, Other Animals and Natural Curiosities

Arthur MacGregor
Henrietta McBurney
Caterina Napoleone
Ian Rolfe
Harvey Miller Publications
Book by Paula Findlen

This two-volume catalogue brings together some of the finest natural history drawings assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588–1657) and his younger brother Carlo Antonio (1606–89) in Rome over the course of the seventeenth century. Included are 251 coloured drawings of fauna and 63 of precious stones, marbles, fossils, exotic fruits and seeds and other natural curiosities. Cassiano had a particular interest in ornithology, and birds are thus the best-represented animals in this group, with more than 200 drawings of both native and exotic species. Many were the models for the plates in a book on ornithology, the Uccelliera, which Cassiano co-authored and presented to the Accademia dei Lincei on his election to that scientific society in 1622. Several others were executed to accompany discourses written by Cassiano on individual birds, often following dissection of those birds.

Other drawings of animals here include mammals, fishes, crustaceans and molluscs. The drawings of mineral specimens and natural curiosities illustrate items typically found in the collectors’ cabinets of the period: gemstones, marbles, bezoars, corals, fossils, exotic seeds and scientific instruments. Many of the specimens came from the collections of Cassiano’s contemporaries and were the focal point of scientific investigations and discussion. To catalogue such a wide range of material, a team of historians of art and science and specialists from the fields of ornithology, zoology and geology has been assembled. The introductory essays discuss Cassiano’s engagement with nature and the collecting and illustrating of fauna and other naturalia in the seventeenth century. Documentary appendices provide transcriptions and translations of key manuscript sources. Following the dispersal of a large number of the natural history drawings from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle between the two world wars, many are now in public and private collections. They constitute more than a third of the drawings catalogued here, which allows Cassiano’s surviving holdings in these fields of natural history to be studied in their entirety.