Ever since the creation of the world's first botanical and zoological gardens five thousand years ago, people have collected, displayed, and depicted plants and animals from lands beyond their everyday experience. Some did so to demonstrate power over distant territories, others to enhance prestige by possessing something no one had seen before. Exotica also satisfied intellectual curiosity, furthered scientific research, and educated and entertained. In addition, exotica, especially their state-sponsored representation, were often instruments of political persuasion, and in turn exerted considerable influence over expansionist policies.
More than an account of gardens and menageries from antiquity to the present, Strange and Wonderful explores the imagery of exotic flora and fauna in Western art, seeking answers to certain fundamental and universal questions. How do artists, schooled in traditional modes of rendering the familiar, deal with the new and strange? Why are rare species deliberately introduced into images otherwise devoid of the unusual? What is the pictorialized relationship between exotic reality and artistic imagination? Karen Polinger Foster takes readers on a journey across millennia and around the globe, telling fascinating stories and meeting along the way such characters as Hatshepsut's baboons, Charlemagne's elephant, Dürer's rhinoceros, and Victoria's hippopotamus.
What emerges is a sense of just how strong and far-reaching the pull of the unknown and exotic has been across time and space. Ultimately, images of the wonderful reveal as much about the indigenous as they do about the strange, enabling us to glimpse more vividly the power of imagination to mold the unknown to its purposes. This dazzling and richly illustrated volume offers a thoughtful, much-needed inquiry into a very human phenomenon.
Chapter 1: The Cradle of Exotica
Chapter 2: Novelties on the Nile
Chapter 3: Knowing the Unknown
Chapter 4: Exotica and Europe
Chapter 5: True and Proper Pictures
Chapter 6: Crossing the Atlantic
Karen Polinger Foster specializes in the art and archaeology of the Bronze Age Aegean, with particular interests in interconnections with Egypt and Mesopotamia. She is a Lecturer of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization and History of Art at Yale University. She is the author or co-author of numerous books, including Civilizations of Ancient Iraq (2009), co-authored with Benjamin R. Foster, received the 2010 Felicia A. Holton Book Award from the Archaeological Institute of America.