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)
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:
Next on the series: A Bunch of Birds. Or is That a Watch of Nightingales?
Interesting post, Nicholas. The photos of the feather book pages were fascinating. Truly a lesson in history, as I had not heard of this before. the fore-edge painting is beautiful. I had not heard of it before. A lot of work when into the actual production of these books, unlike today where books are mass produced.
Yes, most books were a work of art back then!
“Bombs away! “
Lol – yes, quite 😀
This is pretty amazing! I love old historical things like this – what a creative mind Minaggio had! Who would have thought to create paintings with feathers? the pooping dog gave me a good chuckle and I enjoyed the history of the tooth puller. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at 15th, 16th, 17th century paintings of anatomy…
Oh, right! You’re quite the expert, then. This was the first book of its kind that’s come to my attention, which is why I had to share 🙂
Yes, in a way it is 🙂
Beautiful, but I wonder why Minaggio would show a pooping dog? Was he an odd ball, making a joke, or was it some kind of commentary on his boss…I wonder.
Lol – no idea. Then again, the guy created a book out of bird… erm… stuff, so…
The amazing thing is that this has survived–and in such great condition–for 400 years.
Indeed! I was rather surprised by that myself.
Fascinating! Of it’s time it’s not so very unusual, given that paper wasn’t that commonly available and parchment is after all made from animal skin… The colours are still holding up from the images shown here, which is pretty impressive as well, nearly 400 years later!
Actually, I was under the impression it was pretty unusual even for back then, as I’ve never heard of anything similar!
I agree with Charles that the materials used seem uncomfortable to our modern sensitivities. The images are no less interesting for that though.
Best wishes, Pete.
I suspect they were no less unusual back then!
A curious book. Though I admit the use of beaks, skin, and feet is a little creepy.
I’m thinking of including the idea into my fiction. Truth really is stranger…
Definitely different than the classic ‘evil book made of human flesh’.
Yes, having the villain read incantations from a dark Grimoire made of bird droppings doesn’t feel quite as menacing…
I don’t know. If the hero has a phobia of bird droppings or is a neat freak then that could have some punch.
Well played, sir 😀