“What is deeper in a man is the skin,” wrote French poet Paul Valéry. It’s that very skin, our limit with the outside world, which bears a deeply metaphysical materiality. It’s the medium through which, to some large extent, the world enters us. The art of taxidermy – the name of which derives from the Latin taxi, meaning, “move” and derma, “skin” – is a singular example of the fixation we have with the dermis and also with bodies, both with our own human bodies, and those of other living beings.

The practice, for some an art form, has seen multiple stages and has gained or lost popularity depending on the historical era. It’s a practice that’s still alive and results from our own transference, in metaphysical terms, of what “is” a living being into the material that had been its shell, its container, and which may preserve something of the essence of what had once been.

The 16th and 17th-centuries saw the antecedents of taxidermy, at least in the West (even older techniques of Egyptian mummification, for example, might be considered precursors). During these centuries, the art was developed by explorers who sought to preserve the exotic species of animals found in their travels, though with little success or accuracy. Such pieces often ended up in the “cabinets of curiosities” of the time.

In the 18th century, the earliest known taxidermy manuals were published though the “golden age” was to be the 19th century, specifically during Victorian England. At this time, many scientists used the practice to study the living beings with whom we share the planet. Among such scientists was English ornithologist, John Hancock, considered the father of modern taxidermy.

The latter half of the 19th-century is remembered for its fixation with death and a taste for eccentricity (it’s enough to remember the era’s disturbing post-mortem photography). But an “anthropomorphic taxidermy” also included animals dressed as humans and mounted into scenes such as dinners, duels, or boxing matches, developed, too. There was also a curiosity for deformed animals and there were, in their own turn, dissected and preserved for display.

After the Second World War, taxidermy lost popularity and is criticized to this day for its relation to hunting and trophy collecting. But it’s important to consider that the practice can also be seen as a kind of posthumous tribute which has, at present, enjoyed a resurgence. It’s a response, in part, of the digital age toward anything made by hand.

Taxidermy, originally a “scientific art,” is a mixture of disciplines, knowledge, and trades ranging from anatomy, to carpentry, sculpture, fur, sewing, painting and the tanning of skins, and one which requires a meticulous process of measurement and observation, something that can only be born of a love for the body of an animal.

taxidermia1
The darkness emanating from these lifeless beings could be seen, then, as rather luminous. At a deeper level, the art of taxidermy is born of a Promethean will to give life (in the manner of a god) to something without life, to bestow immortality, to resurrect and make permanent, to capture that which is essentially fleeting, and thus to make an eccentric epitaph to the creatures who’ve once roamed the Earth.

 

 

Images: 1) Brooklyn Taxidermy – flickr 2) Public domain

“What is deeper in a man is the skin,” wrote French poet Paul Valéry. It’s that very skin, our limit with the outside world, which bears a deeply metaphysical materiality. It’s the medium through which, to some large extent, the world enters us. The art of taxidermy – the name of which derives from the Latin taxi, meaning, “move” and derma, “skin” – is a singular example of the fixation we have with the dermis and also with bodies, both with our own human bodies, and those of other living beings.

The practice, for some an art form, has seen multiple stages and has gained or lost popularity depending on the historical era. It’s a practice that’s still alive and results from our own transference, in metaphysical terms, of what “is” a living being into the material that had been its shell, its container, and which may preserve something of the essence of what had once been.

The 16th and 17th-centuries saw the antecedents of taxidermy, at least in the West (even older techniques of Egyptian mummification, for example, might be considered precursors). During these centuries, the art was developed by explorers who sought to preserve the exotic species of animals found in their travels, though with little success or accuracy. Such pieces often ended up in the “cabinets of curiosities” of the time.

In the 18th century, the earliest known taxidermy manuals were published though the “golden age” was to be the 19th century, specifically during Victorian England. At this time, many scientists used the practice to study the living beings with whom we share the planet. Among such scientists was English ornithologist, John Hancock, considered the father of modern taxidermy.

The latter half of the 19th-century is remembered for its fixation with death and a taste for eccentricity (it’s enough to remember the era’s disturbing post-mortem photography). But an “anthropomorphic taxidermy” also included animals dressed as humans and mounted into scenes such as dinners, duels, or boxing matches, developed, too. There was also a curiosity for deformed animals and there were, in their own turn, dissected and preserved for display.

After the Second World War, taxidermy lost popularity and is criticized to this day for its relation to hunting and trophy collecting. But it’s important to consider that the practice can also be seen as a kind of posthumous tribute which has, at present, enjoyed a resurgence. It’s a response, in part, of the digital age toward anything made by hand.

Taxidermy, originally a “scientific art,” is a mixture of disciplines, knowledge, and trades ranging from anatomy, to carpentry, sculpture, fur, sewing, painting and the tanning of skins, and one which requires a meticulous process of measurement and observation, something that can only be born of a love for the body of an animal.

taxidermia1
The darkness emanating from these lifeless beings could be seen, then, as rather luminous. At a deeper level, the art of taxidermy is born of a Promethean will to give life (in the manner of a god) to something without life, to bestow immortality, to resurrect and make permanent, to capture that which is essentially fleeting, and thus to make an eccentric epitaph to the creatures who’ve once roamed the Earth.

 

 

Images: 1) Brooklyn Taxidermy – flickr 2) Public domain