Stunning 200-Year-Old French Illustrations of Exotic, Endangered, and Extinct Birds
By Maria Popova
“How can the bird that is born for joy sit in a cage and sing?” wrote William Blake, who lived in the golden age of the cage as entertainment. Zoos were new and exciting, and people readily overlooked their cruelty to slake their curiosity about creatures from faraway lands. But even so, zoos held only a tiny fraction of the dazzling variousness of the animal kingdom — in the age before photography, before easy global travel, the average person encountered the wondrous strangeness of animals not in the cage but on the page.
In the 1820s, a French natural history encyclopedia titled La Galerie de Oiseaux set out to bring to European eyes the most exquisite birds of North America, many of them now endangered, some extinct. Radiating from the consummate illustrations is the quiet dignity of these bright emissaries of our planet’s evolutionary history — feathered inheritors of the dinosaurs, winged with a kaleidoscope of joy.