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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Attributed to Vincenzo Leonardi (1589/90-1646)

European pelican 1635

RCIN 928746

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In 1762 George III purchased the collection of Cardinal Alessandro Albani (1692–1779). Among this magnificent collection was the ‘Paper Museum’ of the antiquarian and collector Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588–1657). The Paper Museum was a visual encyclopedia of the ancient and natural worlds, made up of drawings and prints commissioned and collected by Cassiano. Areas covered included artefacts of Roman civilisation (including architecture, wall paintings, mosaics, reliefs, inscriptions, and household objects), Renaissance architecture, artefacts connected with the early Christian church, maps, portraits, and every aspect of the natural world.

Cassiano had a particular interest in ornithology and wrote treatises on the subject. One such treatise was on the pelican, and this drawing was commissioned by Cassiano to illustrate his treatise. The bird had been shot in the marshes near Rome and brought to Cassiano in 1635. He commissioned a drawing of the whole pelican and then had the bird dissected in the laboratory of his palazzo. On measuring the capacity of the pouch Cassiano found that it could contain ‘fourteen pounds of water easily’.

Although little of Cassiano’s ‘Paper Museum’ was published in the seventeenth century, it was consulted by scholars from all over Europe and was one of the most impressive manifestations of the new spirit of empirical investigation which transformed the study of natural history. Over the last twenty years an international team of scholars has been engaged in cataloguing the thousands of surviving pages of the Paper Museum, and in time a series of thirty-five volumes will be published.