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Plate 8. Histoire Naturelle, Cetaces. 3e Genre, Cachalots

Date: c 1784
Overall: 335 x 407 mm, 0.24 kg
Medium: Ink on paper, mylar, card
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Print
Object No: 00019672
Place Manufactured:France

User Terms

    This French drawing depicts six illustrations of a dead female Sperm whale, including a view of its full length body, teeth and nose. It was the most preferred type of whale hunted in the 19th century and its large round head could supply up to 1,890 gallons of oil, used in lamps, candles and mechanical lubricants.
    SignificanceThis print is representative of French natural history drawings in the 18th century.
    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.

    The Sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales and can be recognised by its large squared-off head. It frequents all the worlds oceans and can dive to depths of 1000 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 in the 19th century and despite their subsequent recovery, the whales are currently listed as endangered.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Histiore Naturelle, Cetaces (Natural History, whales)

    Primary title: Plate 8. Histoire Naturelle, Cetaces. 3e Genre, Cachalots

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