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This post kicks off a 3-part special on birds with a most unusual book I came across on Atlas Obscura.

In 1618, Dionisio Minaggio, Chief Gardener of the State of Milan, created a series of pictures. They were images of birds and scenes from the era: hunters, tradesmen, musicians and actors from the Commedia Dell’Arte. The difference was that these pictures were made of feathers, along with some supplementary bird parts: skin, beak and feet.

In total, there were 156 images, which were bound into a book: the appropriately titled Feather Book, or Il Bestario Barocco (The Baroque Bestiary).

It’s not clear what prompted Minaggio to create the feather book; some have speculated that it was to occupy his staff during winter and use up the feathers from the kitchen. Others say the regional governor may have commissioned it.

After traveling from Italy to the collection of an English judge named Taylor White in the 18th century, it is now held at the McGill University Library in Montreal. Below, you can see a selection of the best birds, hunters, musicians and, yes, dentists from The Feather Book.

(All Photos: Dionisio Minaggio, The Feather Book, Milan, c.1618, Courtesy Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library)

A 400-Year-Old Book Made Entirely of Feathers | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

The title page of The Feather Book. The banner hanging from the branch reads: ‘Dionisio Minaggio, gardener to His Excellency the Governor of Milan was the creator, and he made [this book] in the year 1618’. Judging by the size of that bird, the shepherd underneath should move. Like, now.

A 400-Year-Old Book Made Entirely of Feathers | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

No, this gentleman is not strangling his patient. He is a professional tooth-puller standing on a table between an open coffer and his professional insignia – tooth hanging from a pole. He holds up the tooth he has just extracted from a suffering patient, who sits holding a blood-stained cloth to his face.

A 400-Year-Old Book Made Entirely of Feathers | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Yes, this dog is doing what it looks like. Apparently, he enjoys music while in the bathroom.

A 400-Year-Old Book Made Entirely of Feathers | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

This looks pretty heroic, until one remembers what the dog was doing a moment ago.

A 400-Year-Old Book Made Entirely of Feathers | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

A couple of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. As is appropriate, the female sits at the top.

A 400-Year-Old Book Made Entirely of Feathers | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

A Kingfisher flies over a village. There is a theme emerging here, isn’t there?

See even more bird-themed images from the book on Atlas Obscura and stay tuned for more bird-related weirdness!

Update: Bonus Video

My friend, Eloise (aka Mello-Elo), very kindly shared news of this post on her blog, Monday Coffee. In the same post, she mentions a book with spectacular fore-edge painting, as the technique of painting on a book’s edge is called. This painting is normally only revealed when the book is viewed from a specific angle, making it a sort of medieval Easter egg:

‘fore-edge painting’:The Secret Paintings Hidden on the Edges of Books (via Cornell University)

Next on the series: A Bunch of Birds. Or is That a Watch of Nightingales?

Freebie of the day:

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