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Baleana: The Mysticetus, or Common Whale

Date: 1798
Overall: 335 x 407 mm, 240 g
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00019655
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    This coloured print features a whale beached on a glacial foreshore being hacked and measured by a group of sailors. The whale is depicted with its tounge and penis drooping to the ground, as the men clamber upon it. The anatomy of the whale is modelled on an inacurate drawing by Hendrik Goltzius in 1598, in which the whales fin is represented as an ear.
    SignificanceThis print is an important record of European illustrations of whales in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and demonstrates the unfolding scientific knowledge of them. The use of the terms 'Balaena' and 'Mysticetus' to describe the whale species reflects the state of knowledge of whale taxonomy during this time.
    HistoryEuropean scientific knowledge of whales was a slowly evolving process. Whales were commonly sighted along the European coasts and occasionally seen stranded, however early published illustrations of the animal show a mythical monster-like creature - sometimes depicted with horns spouting water. Many artists did not draw from life, using descriptions given by explorers, scientists and publishers. Many of their works were copied from earlier drawings and offered only slightly different interpretations of the previous studies. The rise of the natural sciences in the 18th century saw a shift from mythical to scientific depictions of whales.

    The late 18th century European voyages of discovery pushed beyond the existing fringes of European settlement, and explored unknown lands beyond established sea routes. These voyages excited the scientific community with the documentation of exotic or previously unknown species. Naturalists, landscape artists, natural history artists and field assistants accompanied explorers on these voyages. The artists produced thousands of sketches and paintings of both plants and animals, from sea and land.

    As a result of these explorations, there was an enormous increase in the publication of scientific writings describing the animals and plants encountered on the voyages. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries numerous comprehensive and beautifully illustrated natural history compilations were published in Europe.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: The Mysticetus, or Common Whale

    Web title: Baleana: The Mysticetus, or Common Whale

    Related People
    Publisher: J Wilkes

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