John James Audubon's Carolina Parrot; An Example of Scientific Discovery & Globalizatoin May 18 2017

John James Audubon (1785-1851)

Carolina Parrot, Plate 26

Engraving with Original Hand Color

London: Robert Havell

A highlight from our June 3rd, 2017 auction, John James Audubon's "Carolina Parrot" eloquently exemplifies Both Europe's and America's inclination towards globalization and scientific discovery.  As the Western world expanded its horizons and began to both trade with and colonize parts of South America, Africa, and Asia, Europeans were introduced to wide a range of new and exotic animals and plants.  Fascinated by their exciting new discoveries, many Westerners sought to emulate such exoticism in their homes by acquiring works of art depicting various birds and fruits.  Such images spoke to both the wealth and knowledge of their purchaser as well as the inevitable influence of the globalization that began to take place throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.  Though the concept of exoticism through global exploration may at first appear to be the sole reason for the Western world’s fascination with parrots, such interest initially began prior to the rise of the Roman Empire.  In the year 401 B.C. a young Greek slave, who became the court physician to Artaxerxes II, produced a fairly accurate description of a Plum-headed Parakeet and wrote of the birds ability to speak the language of its native India.  It is believed that Alexander the Great was one of the first to introduce and tame the newly recognized birds. 

By the time the Roman Empire came to a close, so did the societies interest with the outlandish birds.  As Europe began exploring the new world in the fifteenth century however; various species of parrots were reintroduced to Western culture.  The birds quickly gained popularity, which ultimately lead to the re-domestication of the animals through trade.  In addition to their domesticity, parrots were often times used for their plumages, which offered an element of ornamentation to one’s clothing.  Although most of society new the animals common name, “parrot”, many still referred to the exotic birds quite romantically as “birds of paradise”.