It is thought Savery actually saw the dodo alive, the bird having been brought from Mauritius to Prince Maurice of Nassau's menagerie. Prince Maurice (1567–1625) was the Stadtholder of the Netherlands: Mauritius was named in his honour after it was discovered by Dutch explorers in 1598. This is one of the few authentic pictures of the dodo in life and, unusually, Savery has painted a rear view of the bird, its head turned towards the viewer as it scratches its beak with the right leg.
Savery is best known for his paintings of exotic animals living in the zoological gardens of Rudolph II of Prague, many of which he incorporated in paintings of the Garden of Eden and other traditional subjects. At that time there was tremendous curiosity in exotic animals and Savery's paintings were bursting with the brightly coloured foreign birds living in the aviaries – cockatoos, cassowaries, macaws, crowned cranes and the dodo – and capture that enthusiasm. The combination of species coming from all over the world is pure art and has nothing remotely systematic in it. He used his source material again and again, painting the birds in different positions and arrangements against landscapes of rich green vegetation. Savery also has a reputation for creating masterpieces of floral still lifes, all of which he developed while working in the privileged position in Prague.
Where to see this painting?
Zoological Society of London
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