Curious Beasts

Goya's Al toro y al aire darles calle


The British are coming! And they’re bringing rhinos, tigers and all manner of beasts with them to USD. This fall, the university will begin a five-year partnership with the revered British Museum, which holds one of the most extensive and historic collection of prints and drawings in the world.

The exhibition, Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from Dürer to Goya, in USD’s Hoehn Family Galleries, is the first in a planned series of three collaborations that “will result in extraordinary images coming to San Diego, many for the first time,” says Derrick Cartwright, Director of University Galleries and Professorv in the Department of Art,vArchitecture + Art History. “No other San Diego arts institution has ever collaborated with the British Museum at this level.” The partnership will also include opportunities for USD students to intern and study abroad in London.

The exhibition, which runs from Oct. 3-Dec. 12, examines humanity’s enduring curiosity about the animal world through the beautiful and occasionally bizarre imagery found in the British Museum’s vast collection of more than two million prints. Curious Beasts features 86 rare woodcuts, engravings, etchings, mezzotints and lithographs from the 15th to the 19th centuries.

mermaidSpecifically, Curious Beasts will feature singular works such as Albrecht Dürer’s famed woodcut,Rhinoceros (1515), George Stubbs’ etching, A Sleeping Leopard (1791) and Francisco de Goya’s aquatint Al toro y al aire darles calle (1816-24), alongside other less known and seldom seen treasures. These works were typically small-scale, easily transported, comparatively affordable and were also accessible to many levels of society. They comprise a fascinating record of early modern imagination, creativity and popular tastes.

“From the early Renaissance forward, European artists were intrigued by discoveries of new species and participated in efforts to understand the wondrous creatures in both scientific and creative terms,” Cartwright explains. “The British Museum’s holdings offer an unparalleled opportunity to study these images, and we plan to make the most of having these works with us throughout the fall term.”

The exhibition is divided into four sections. After a brief introductory section, a large group of prints will illustrate the symbolic and allegorical roles that animals have played through the ages. Another section explores how prints were used to understand the natural world and how these images were put to use within the scientific community. A final section demonstrates how prevalent animals were in the everyday life of people from the 16th through 19th centuries and how they came to be viewed as artistic subjects in their own right.

Alison Wright, the British Museum’s curator of the exhibition, says she’s delighted that the project will be coming to USD. “The British Museum’s astonishing collection of prints has proved a wonderfully rich resource for exploring the ways in which the natural world has inspired and fascinated artists across the centuries. It’s a privilege now to be able to share the show with an institution with such an outstanding commitment to the study and appreciation of prints.”

The presentation of prints from the British Museum will be augmented by a selection of prints of animal subjects from USD’s own rapidly growing collection. Due to the generosity of a number of donors, USD’s print collection has nearly doubled in size over the past two years and now represents one of San Diego’s most important visual resources for print culture.

The prints that will be shown alongside the British Museum’s works include some of the finest works in the university’s print collection, with rare examples of USD’s own images by Dürer and Goya, as well as several recent acquisitions. — Liz Harman

(Top of page) Francisco de Goya, Al toro y al aire darles calle, etching, aquatint, and drypoint, 1816-1824, © The Trustees of the British Museum; (above, left) George Crukshank, The Mermaid!, handcolored etching, 1822, © The Trustees of the British Museum.