Vogels (Birds), at Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague

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As i like both birds and books i visited the present exhibition Vogels (Birds) at the Museum Meermanno Westreenianum,  one of the nicest museums in The Hague, as i said before.

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The show starts with some medieval and renaissance volumes, the first one on this page Conrad Gessner’s Historia Animalium and this one, Pierre Belon’s L’histoire des oyseaux, both of 1555.

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Der dieren palleys of the 1520’s, printed in Antwerp (also printed in English as The wonderful shape and nature) which explains the medical use of animals and birds.

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Here a Dutch translation Van den proprieteyten der dinghen of 1485 of the 13th century English manuscript De proprietatibus rerum by Bartholomaeus Anglicus.

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There is also work by the famous Bolognese scholar Ulisse Aldrovandi of around 1600.

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According to the label this bird of prey is too big compared to the lamb under its talons. However, look at the “lamb’s” legs and tail: it’s a mouse or a rat.

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There are two wonderful manuscripts of Jacob van Maerlant’s 13th century text Der nature bloeme (The flower of nature) one mid 15th century and

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another mid 14th century and

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a mid 15th century French manuscript of a bestiary.

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The oldest volume on display is this 10th century medical manuscript (on a 4th century text by Sextus Placitus: Liber medicinae ex animalibus) showing the medical use of a partridge against consumption and blindness.

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And a 17th century gem: John Jonston’s work about birds, in a Dutch translation with engravings of the famous Matthäus Merian who also borrowed from Aldrovandi, as you can see from the bird of prey top left.

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And here some pages from Histoire naturelle des oiseaux (1770-83) by Buffon, one of the great French Encyclopédistes. And some more works

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from the 18th century, an age where biologists struggled with classification of the species. Here Johann Michael Seligmann’s Sammlung verschiedener ausländischer und seltener Vögel (Collection of several foreign and rare birds) and

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here Aernout Vosmaer’s Beschryving van eenen Afrikaanschen roof-vogel (Description of an African bird of prey). Vosmaer also managed Prince William V’s zoo in The Hague.

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Carolus Clusius’ Exoticorum libris decem of the early 17th century, describing exotic species brought to western Europe, amongst them the dodo and the penguin, thought to be a kind of goose (Anser). And from these early modern scientific days

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to the 19th century, here with Rüppell’s Atlas zu der Reise im nördlichen Afrika (Atlas to the voyage in northern Africa) and

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with Siebold’s Fauna japonica, showing the Japanese subspecies of the common kestrel.

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One room is dedicated to the first book about Dutch birds, Nederlandsche vogelen, a work started in 1770 and taking 59 years to finish.

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After an interval

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there is more attention to literary, decorative and other cultural use of birds. Like in food and hunting in this 17th century book about game and poultry.

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In the 16th century Visboeck (Fish book) by Adriaen Coenen from Scheveningen (now part of the Hague) geese still grow on trees.

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Here a bit of a morbid page from an 18th century album amicorum with real feathers, leg and beak.

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Quite a few works by Theo van Hoytema (around 1900) are shown and

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there is a whole glass case with illustrations of Poe’s The Raven.

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A decorative woodcut and print by Dijsselhof (end 19th century).

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Two volumes of Vogel-idyllen (Bird idylls) by headmaster Vijverberg who illustrated his books with photo’s he made with self made cameras in the 1920s and 30s.

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There is work by the unavoidable Escher but also

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by the great Hendrik Werkman.

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On the 3rd floor there is a small exhibition of children’s and popular books with birds,

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amongst them the popular chicks Fokke & Sukke (Boys, can’t you just for five minutes…….spoil yoursélves?)

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and there are some new acquisitions, amongst them etchings and woodcuts by Alan James Robinson for Poe’s The Raven.

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As the exhibition was made in cooperation with the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library) in The Hague, it has a strong Dutch flavour, or one might say a hollandocentric one. But it doesn’t glorify the Dutch past or present, it shows things from a Dutch perspective and does so quite well. However, from that perspective two important names are missing: Rein Stuurman and H.J. Slijper, the first one made watercolours for the first real illustrated pocket guide for Dutch bird watching, used by many in the 1950s and 60s (and an interesting book for its lay out), and Slijper was responsible for many illustrations, amongst them school plates.

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(Click on the pictures to enlarge)

Bertus Pieters

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