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Plate 6. Histoire Naturelle, Cetaces. 3e Genre, Cachalots

Date: c 1789
Overall: 339 x 407 mm, 0.24 kg
Medium: Engraving on paper.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00019663
Place Manufactured:France

User Terms

    This black and white French print depicts a Sperm Whale's body, skull, tooth and jaw bone. It was copied from a 1746 German drawing and shows the underside of the animal with its tongue and penis extended. During the 19th century the study of natural history become increasingly popular. This print was produced for L'Abbé Bonnaterre's Encyclopedia on natural history, the most respected authority on whales at the time.
    SignificanceThis print represents the production of 19th century natural history drawings in France and the public fascination with whales.
    HistoryKnowledge of whales by European culture and science was an evolving process. The earliest drawings of the animal show a mythical monster-like creature with horns spouting water. Natural history artists were largely unable to draw from life and instead used 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. By the 19th century artists were increasingly providing more faithful depictions and moving away from the mythical depiction of whales.

    Bonnaterre’s French encyclopedia, 'The Tableau Encyclopédique et Méthodique des trois Regnes de la Nature' (Encyclopedic and methodic picture of the three reigns of nature) featured information on plants, animals and minerals. At the time of its publication in 1789 it was a well respected scientific account that featured attractive illustrations.

    The Sperm whale is the biggest of the toothed whales and can be recognised by its large squared-off head. It frequents all the worlds oceans and dives to depths of one thousand metres in search of squid and fish. The whale became synonymous with Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, which perpetuated its image as a fearsome aggressive creature. In the 1800s, Sperm whales were a valuable source of ambergris (a waxy substance used in perfumes) and more importantly oil, used in candles and fuels. Whalers’ drastically impacted Sperm whale numbers and despite their recovery, they are currently listed as endangered.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Le grand cachalot, Histoire Naturelle (Sperm Whale, Natural History)

    Assigned title: Plate 6. Natural History, Cetaceans. 3rd Genus, Sperm Whales

    Primary title: Plate 6. Histoire Naturelle, Cetaces. 3e Genre, Cachalots

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