ANIMAL ART OF THE DAY for National Hummingbird Day: Europe’s first hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds, Giovanni da Udine (Italian, 1487-1564), detail from Pillar XI of the Raphael Rooms, Vatican Loggia, c. 1517-19

The Vatican Loggia’s “Raphael Rooms” have long been noted for their immense variety of flora and fauna depicted, including many exotic species. Believed to have executed primarily by Rafael’s associate Giovanni da Udine (1487-1564) between 1517-1519, this artistic menagerie is thought to be an artistic catalog of the real-life menagerie of Medici Pope Leo X (r. 1513-21).

A pair of hummingbirds (Trochilidae) can be found on Pillar XI, one of which looks like a Sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). As hummingbirds are endemic to the Neotropical Americas, Europeans would not have known of their existence until at least 1492; recorded on the Pope’s walls only about 25 years later, this image is the earliest visual evidence of their importation into Europe, and predates their scientific description by decades.

These hummingbirds along with the hundreds of other species represented on the walls of the Raphael Rooms are meticulously identified and cataloged in the 2011 book Raffaello e l’immagine della natura: La raffigurazione del mondo naturale nelle decorazioni delle Logge vaticane, which is one of the finest scholarly examples of merging art history and natural history ever produced.

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