Thursday, November 23, 2006

ART: Haven't You Always Wanted a Monkey?

In my early twenties, I spent three years working in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in southeastern Ontario -- a town that is, believe it or not, even more twee than its name suggests. You can't throw a rock in Niagara-on-the-Lake without hitting some reference to the War of 1812, so it makes perfect sense that the town has -- in a spirit one can only describe as exhaustive -- decided to embrace history in all its permutations, even history that is not its own.

The town is chockablock (there's that word again!) with antiques and faux-historical bric-a-brac. If you were to go looking for that rock you were hurling around so cavalierly back in the first paragraph and then huck it again, you couldn't avoid hitting lots (and lots and lots) of 18th-century (or 18th-century-esque) scientific illustrations of plants and flowers and birds and butterflies. Pretty pictures, yes, but not the kind of stuff you want to hang on your own walls.

On the other hand, if those shops had stocked prints like THIS, I would have put them directly in touch with my decorator:


Look at that mug. Don't let those six-inch talons fool you. All this little buddy wants from you is a great big HUG.

There are many more of these kinds of engravings to be seen over at
BibliOdyssey (including a mole-like creature who charms me more than a little), along with a more informed write-up than I can provide, including this little tidbit:
The absurd rendering of many of the animals comes about because the engravers/artists working on the project did not actually see the animals. They had to rely on descriptions and their imagination and, as was the fashion of the time, the animals were placed in contrived settings and often given human facial qualities, which only serves to heighten the sense of bizarre. And thankful we are too.
Thankful, indeed. Check it out.

[via boingboing]

9 comments:

Joshua said...

I'm not sure which I prefer more, the raggedy maned seal or the rat with some weird spikes/teats coming out of a tear in its hide.

But what I love most in the picture you posted is how there's a GIANT version of the claw laying in the bushes in the foreground.

Anonymous said...

It's not a monkey--it's a sloth. But still creepy-looking.

Doppelganger said...

Joshua, that half-lion-half-seal critter is one of my favourites, too!

anonymous, I wondered if it were a sloth, too, but I was deceived by that little simian face. It could explain why I like him so much., though. Sloths are my all-time favourite mammal. You've got to love an animal who moves at a glacial speed and prefers just to hang out in a single tree for its entire lifetime, and whose sole defence against its primary predator (the harpy eagle, I believe) is its ability to hold on to its tree real tight and hope that its baggy skin and thick fur keep the bird from getting a good enough grip to pull it off. They're tenacious little buggers, sloths are, which I respect.

Er, perhaps I just talked about sloths too much. As you were.

Doppelsis said...

Got any pictures of some wax fuit?

Doppelsis said...

Make that waxed fruit.

Anonymous said...

It kind of looks like a monkey version of Jesus.

bicyclefish said...

absurd creature images are close to my heart, as i know images of books and libraries are close to yours....

CQ said...

Could be a bonobo

A bonobo who has lost his nail-clipper.

It is in fact, as the picture itself states, the Bradypus tridactylus, or 3-toed sloth

-Biology Boy

CitronYella said...

Niagara-on-the-Lake, one December evening in the year '01, after a snow storm, streets deserted, decorated for Christmas, gave me the feeling that somehow I had been dropped into a Dickens Snow Village display. Disconcerting, but enchanting. Add Keith's IPA in a little pub below street level, that's a good memory for sure.