Friday 21 September 2012

Taxidermy: The art of death

The macabre art of taxidermy is certainly a bizarre one. The eerie displays are a familiar feature of many museum collections in England.

The practice of taxidermy, in one form or another, is an ancient activity, rooted in religion, and later scientific and naturalist study. Like so many other things, it was the Victorians who embraced taxidermy with true passion, and made taxidermy an art form, and a fashionable one.

Taxidermy became a way of immortalizing the spoils of hunting for sport, and preserving them for posterity. Today, there are moral implications in the killing and 'collecting' of rare animals, however in Victorian society it was the boom in biology, botany and zoology, and a general curious fascination for life which fueled the popularity of taxidermy.

Taxidermy collections still posses a strange fascination, and the ability to evoke many different reactions, from disgust and discomfort, to interest, and the appreciation of viewing creatures in such detail.  Having seen a number of taxidermy collections over the years, it is unsurprising that one of the finest Ive ever observed was at the Natural History Museum, London.
A vast array of animals were on display, from Tigers and Gazelle to Rooks, Barn owls and Chickens. The most curious were two hares arranged as if engaged their famed bizarre mating behavior, boxing, displayed suspended in a large glass case (below).

Everything about the Natural History Museum feels wonderfully Victorian, from the glorious Victorian brick of the Waterhouse building, to the collections themselves and the large focus upon the role of Charles Darwin in advancing natural science. It is an encouraging thought that even in the modern world, people have managed to retain that great curiosity in nature and endless thirst for knowledge which the Victorians gave us.

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