The Wonder of Birds
24 May – 14 September 2014
A multifarious display exploring how birds have been studied, portrayed, preserved and endangered by humans since 2000 BC.
Our interest in birds extends far beyond natural history into the worlds of art and illustration, archaeology, religion and fashion. Here, a series of thematically arranged displays trace the complexity of our relationship with them.
While hawking has long been a popular pastime among royalty and nobility, humans have also played an important role in bird conservation, and as much as birds are recognised as integral to our local wildlife they are also kept in captivity as pets.
Key exhibits include a carved stone duck from Babylon - originally used as a grain weight - that dates from around 2000 BC, a gold Colombian shaman's necklace portraying half-human, half-bird figures that was worn in religious ceremonies and a hat of pheasant feathers from the 1930s. There is also a chance to see a rare early taxidermy specimen of the Paradise Parrot, which has been extinct for almost a century.
Meanwhile, contemporary works include Spring Cuckoo, a sculpture of found metal objects by Harriet Mead which references the species' decline - its numbers in England have reduced by half since 1995 - and artist and author Katrina van Grouw's depiction of a Giant Hornbill's skeletal structure.
Broadcasting live from the exhibition is a link to the Hawk and Owl Trust's camera which records the development of the Peregrine Falcon nest on the Norwich Cathedral spire, bringing living birds directly into the exhibition.
Art Funded work, Hans Holbein’s Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling is back in Norfolk for the first time since its acquisition by the National Gallery in 1992. Most likely painted during Holbein's first visit to England in 1526-8, the sitter is thought to be Anne Lovell, with the starling in the background and the pet squirrel on a chain alluding to the family's coat of arms.