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Kingdom Animalia: Collecting and Representing Animals in the Global Renaissance

Posted By Erin Benay, Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Animals have appeared in early modern art in a number of seemingly formulaic categories—serving as allegorical symbols, metaphors of human behavior, and as emblems of familial dynasty among other functions.  Numerous scholarly studies have therefore been devoted to them as such.  In these models, depictions of animals are understood to offer moralizing messages about faith, virtue, and vice.  In recent years, however, alternative theories have emerged that assert the scientific and ethnographic implications attendant to the representation of animals in the period 1400-1700. These methodologies converge with new histories of the ‘global’ Renaissance which have introduced to the discipline vastly different interpretations of the natural world.  Animals, in turn, should be seen to play an important role, not only in the wunderkammer or menagerie, as is well known, but in the production of global knowledge itself. 

This session aims to explore the ways that animals—whether real, imagined, represented, or collected—participated in epistemologies of the ‘exotic’ or ‘foreign’ in early modern Europe. How might the European cultural history of animals have changed as a result of factors like increasing international trade, overseas exploration and colonization, and contact with indigenous religions?  And finally, in what ways might European attitudes toward exotic animals have resembled their perceptions of the ‘other’ more generally? 

Papers in this session(s) might explore a series of related topics and questions including but not limited to:

-  The representation of animals from Africa, Asia, or the Americas in devotional or secular art

-  The use of animal fur, feathers, bone, or tusks in the manufacture of decorative or utilitarian objects

-  Non-European animals adopted as familial emblems

-  Collection of taxidermy animals or composite, fantastical creatures

-  The representation of animal myths and legends recounted in early modern travel literature

-  The role of animals in the construction of early modern racial stereotypes

-  The incorporation of non-European animals in large-scale, public monuments such as fountains.

Please send proposals to Erin Benay ( Include in your proposal: name and affiliation, paper title (max. 15 words), abstract (max. 150 words), and a brief CV (max. 300 words; in ordinary CV format) by Sunday, June 5th at the absolute latest.

Tags:  Africa  Animals  artificialia  Asia  emblem  epistemology  ethnography  Global  history of collecting  history of science  India  materiality  naturalia  the Americas  travel writing  wunderkammer 

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