Monday 5 May 2014

Taxidermy: A colossal collection

One surprise I wasn't expecting hidden within the decaying walls of Calke Abbey was the largest Taxidermy collection I have ever seen. Of an unprecedented scale, the vast collection was scattered across various rooms of the house. Ranging from mounted heads lining the walls of most rooms, to colossal glass display cases housing entire species. The collection reared its head at every turn, sometimes smartly lining a wall, appearing neat and well organized, more often though, housed in spaces far too small, or even haphazardly piled into rooms, barely visible.

Naturally the taxidermy specimens which interested me most were birds (unsurprising with my enduring obsession), and they were in great abundance. A huge variety of specimens ranging from Pelicans, to Sparrows and everything in between could be found, some faded and ravaged by time, others bright and beautiful.

The scale of the collection reflects nothing but sheer, unabashed obsession. In high society there has long been a fascination with zoology and scientific study, but the collection at Calke Abbey reflects years, and generations of collections, all under one roof. Despite the size of some of the rooms within the buildings they manage to feel mildly claustrophobic due to the number of paintings, skulls, display cases packed with taxidermy and countless mineral specimens on display.

Taxidermy has been a morbid fascination of mine for some time now. Our ancestors obsession and hobby of recreating the beauty of nature, and animal behavior through death really is a curious one. In the age of photography and global technology the idea of having to kill and preserve something to be able to revel in its beauty is an alien concept to many. Yet there is still something utterly captivating about observing the most beautiful creatures from every corner of the globe in a level of detail normally impossible. However, the ultimate irony of this is you are not viewing a wild animal, but an inanimate object.

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