Monday, March 31, 2014

Unusual Artifacts: A European Pelican, 1635

A European Pelican
Vincenzo Leonardi, 1635
Watercolor over chalk
The Royal Collection

This painting has almost as interesting a travel history than the subject did itself. This particular pelican, it seems, was painted posthumously. He was a well-known, if not out-of-place, visitor to the coast of Italy and attracted much attention for his unusual looks and exotic air. A wealthy Italian fellow named Cassiano del Pozzo, was enchanted by the bird and wished to know more about it. In order to get closer to the pelican, he had it shot. As one does… It seems that studying the creature in his natural habitat hadn’t occurred to Cassiano del Pozzo.

Nevertheless, before dissecting it (and trying to see how much stuff he could fit into its beak pouch—seriously—the answer is 14 pounds of water, by the way), Cassiano del Pozzo commissioned Vincenzo Leonardi to paint this portrait of the poor slain pelican.

After del Pozzo’s death, the painting was shuttled about, spending stretches of time in the collection of the Vatican, later, with King George III, later still, in John’s Hopkins University and finally, in 1988, back to the Royal Collection.

Let’s hope that the painting and the bird may now rest in peace.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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