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"Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum" on view at Ferens Art Gallery
Albrecht Dürer, Rhinoceros, woodcut printed with an olive green tone block, 1515, printed after 1620 © The Trustees of the British Museum.

HULL.- This touring exhibition explores our enduring curiosity about the animal world through the beautiful and bizarre imagery found in prints of the 15th to the early 19th centuries in the British Museum’s collection.  The exhibition features prints by well-known artists including Albrecht Dürer, Francisco de Goya and George Stubbs, alongside lesser known and rarely seen treasures. 

These small-scale, easily transported and comparatively affordable prints were accessible to many levels of society and are a fascinating record of early modern imagination and creativity.

The exhibition has three main themes:

Allegorical animals: symbolism and story which explores the symbolic significance of creatures and the moral stories that they were used to tell.  These are illustrated in religious prints depicting popular biblical stories such as the temptation in the Garden of Eden and Jonah and the Whale, and other narrative subjects including classical mythology and fables, proverbs and allegories, political satire and popular beliefs.

Observing animals: natural history studies charts how prints of all kinds of animals, including newly discovered species, played a vital role in the dissemination of information around the world.  These observational works provide us with a fascinating insight into the ways that artists contributed to natural historical knowledge, and show how artists used a range of techniques, including copying the observations (and mistakes) of others, to create ‘naturalistic’ images of animals.
Encountering animals: the intimate and the everyday shows how animals formed an integral part of life in the early modern period through farming and entertainments such as bull-baiting, in noisy, messy and sometimes violent encounters.  Exotic creatures also entered everyday life as fashionable accessories and in menagerie exhibits, and were satirized and documented for posterity in turn by printmakers.

The exhibition runs until 26 August and includes works created through a variety of different printmaking processes including engraving, woodcut, mezzotint, etching and drypoint. 

For the Hull showing of Curious Beasts the curators from Hull Museums have selected a number of animal specimens from the natural history, social history and art collection to complement the British Museums’ prints.  This includes a large ‘Hull Cabinet of Curiosities’ containing a large brown taxidermy bear, an elephant foot, a giraffe skull and a flying fish!

The exhibition is accompanied by a gift book Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum by Alison E. Wright, available in the gallery shop for £9.99.

Simon Green, Assistant City Manager - Sports, Leisure & Heritage said: “We expect Curious Beasts on loan from the British Museum to be a busy summer exhibition and we encourage visitors to make the most of this fantastic opportunity to see these awe-inspiring works for free at first hand.  We have planned a programme of special events for adults and families which we hope will help them to get the most from the exhibition”.

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"Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum" on view at Ferens Art Gallery

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