Archives & Special Collections Gallery Exhibit




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Creation Date

Fall 2014


Artifact Label:

Gaspar Schott, S.J. (1608-1666)
Physica Curiosa
Herbipoli (Würzburg): Sumptibus Johannis Andreae Endteri & Wolfgangi jun. haeredum, excudebat Jobus Hertz, 1667

Dürer's Rhinoceros, seen replicated here, is perhaps Albert Dürer's most famous illustration.

Jesuit Collection

Albert Dürer

In chapter 57, “Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars,” Ishmael praises the art of sailors and their representation of whales and whaling as being “full of barbaric spirit and suggestiveness, as the prints of that fine Dutch savage, Albert Dürer.” What makes sailors’ and Dürer’s whale illustrations more accurate or praise-worthy? They illustrate with artistry and imagination, not necessarily “accuracy.” In other words, instead of attempting to be empirical, they are poetic. As with many of the seemingly subtle references in Moby-Dick, the passing mention of Dürer is loaded with significance: In 1520 the renowned illustrator, upon hearing of a beached whale, an animal he wanted to illustrate but had never seen, traveled for multiple days by horse and boat to witness it. By the time he arrived, however, the whale had washed back to sea. In other words, it eluded his capture. As lore has it, it was this journey that led to Dürer’s death for he died of a fever soon after. In this regard, Dürer may be viewed as a kind of Ahab-like figure, meaning one who sought the whale for his own desires and then fell victim to its inscrutable curse.