Collecting Zoological Rarities at the Medici Court: real, stuffed and depicted beasts as cultural signs

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Abstract

The chapter focuses on a collection of animal paintings commissioned by the last two Medici Grand Dukes - Cosimo III and his son, Gian Gastone. The series, totalling approximately a hundred pictures, were painted by Bartolomeo Bimbi and Pietro Neri Scacciati during the first four decades of the eighteenth century and were destined to be displayed in the princely setting of the Medici Villa Ambrogiana. The two artists drew their inspiration both from living and from stuffed creatures in the Medici’s zoological collection, to create pictures that portray very vividly and diversely, the relationship between animal collecting and the use of rare fauna as a subject in art within the context of the Florentine grand-ducal court. The animal ‘portraits’ Bimbi painted for Cosimo III are very precise and analytical in their anatomical naturalism, and these pictorial characteristics will be linked to Cosimo III’s interests in natural history, his promotion of zoological research and his desire to catalogue and to classify the living fauna and flora in his domain according to his unique sense of the macrocosmic order. The zoological paintings Scacciati created for Gian Gastone display a move away from the traditions of mimetic naturalism; instead their creation reveal an intriguing connection with scientific advances in taxidermy, which made it possible to preserved rare specimens from the princely menagerie for the longer-term. This development, while anticipating the conception of natural history museums during the latter half of the eighteenth century, in the context of the Medici court, Scacciati’s paintings signalled not only an end in zoological collecting, but also the decline of the Medici dynasty.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCollecting Nature
EditorsA. Galdy, S. Heudecker
Place of PublicationNewcastle
PublisherCambridge Scholar Publishing
Pages19-35
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781443860550
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2014

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    Groom, A. (2014). Collecting Zoological Rarities at the Medici Court: real, stuffed and depicted beasts as cultural signs. In A. Galdy, & S. Heudecker (Eds.), Collecting Nature (pp. 19-35). Cambridge Scholar Publishing.