How did taxidermy develop, and how was it taught before the appearance of nineteenth-century handbooks on the subject? What role did taxidermy play in early natural history collections? How were taxidermy and taxidermists valued? What is significant about the "life" of commodified dead animal bodies? This article explores the answers to these questions. It takes a contemporary taxidermy course and two eighteenth-century taxidermized monkeys as its starting point, arguing that preserved animal bodies were an integral part of a much larger, complex early modern system of research and entertainment, in which taxidermic practices played an important role, but where the taxidermist, however necessary and appreciated, remained an anonymous craftsperson. Moreover, the author demonstrates that in the Stadholderly cabinet, taxidermic practices had to be fitted into a complex whole of analysis, preservation, comparison, and display—interests which sometimes conflicted and had to be carefully balanced. Finally, it is shown that the monkey specimens are an excellent example of how practical knowledge traveled without leaving many textual traces and how the preservation of animal bodies furthered natural historical research.


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pp. 1110-1131
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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