Zoology

A SOUTH AMERICAN LEMUR AND A MODERN-DAY GROUND SLOTH? A PAIR OF PUZZLING ANIMAL PORTRAITS IN AN 18TH-CENTURY ARTISTIC MASTERPIECE


Madagascan
black-and-white ruffed lemur (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Down by the years, I’ve investigated
quite a lot of mystifying animal artworks, depicting species earlier than they had been
formally found by science, or in places far faraway from the place they
are formally recognized to exist. Examples from the previous class embody
varied anachronistic representations of kangaroos (one among which I documented
in my ebook The Unexplained, 1996);
and the next case is a primary instance (however one hitherto undocumented by me)
from the latter class. So I’m significantly indebted to correspondent Cristian
Nahuel Rojas Mendoza for very kindly bringing it to my consideration, on 17
December 2022, and which I misplaced no time in subsequently investigating – thanks, Cristian!

The murals containing the portrayed out-of-place
animal in query is a powerful but surprisingly little-known pictorial encyclopaedia
within the type of a spectacular mural, entitled Quadro de Historia Pure, Civil y Geografica del Reyno del Peru (‘Portray
of the Pure, Civil and Geographical Historical past of the Kingdom of Peru’), or QHNCGRP for comfort hereafter on this
current ShukerNature weblog article of mine. Consisting of quite a few miniature oil
work and accompanying textual content on a wooden panel, it measures a really spectacular
128
x 45.25 inches (325 x 115 cm).

QHNCGRP was authored by Basque-born
however (for 3 a long time) Peru-based scholar José Ignacio Lequanda, who
commissioned French artist Louis Thiébaut to provide the work illustrating
it, and it was accomplished in Madrid in 1799 (click on right here
for an intensive article by Daniela Bleichmar documenting its historical past and
contents).

As we speak, this distinctive creation is held and
displayed on the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain (constituting
Spain’s nationwide museum of pure historical past), which has produced an beautiful,  lavishly-illustrated web site devoted
particularly to it (click on right here
to go to the
web site). I strongly advocate that you simply entry this website whereas studying my
article right here, with a view to admire totally the character, context, content material, and
visible fantastic thing about this really extraordinary, mixed murals and scholarship,
and particularly the 2 gadgets from it into account right here.

 

View
of QHNCGRP in its entirety
click on to enlarge for viewing functions (© Museo
Nacional de Ciencias Naturales – reproduced right here on a strictly non-commercial Truthful
Use foundation for instructional/evaluation functions solely)

Containing a grand complete of 194 particular person
pictures, QHNCGRP presents a picture-driven
historical past of the peoples, animals, and crops of Peru (or, in just a few instances, Peru’s
South American environs). At its centre there may be an annotated map of the
nation, depicting, describing, and delineating its varied administrative
divisions in several colors, in addition to an image of the
mine
of Hualgayoc or Chota, emphasizing the importance of mining to Peru at that
time
.

Constituting the outermost border or
body of QHNCGRP is a collection of 88
miniature work, every depicting a special Peruvian hen and plant, plus
4 nook miniatures portraying Peruvian bugs and reptiles. And working horizontally
immediately beneath the uppermost fringe of this ornithologically-themed border is a
row of 32 miniatures portraying varied human types, together with indigenous
peoples and Western {couples} in varied costumes.

Beneath these, and forming a second,
inside body, is a collection of quite a few compartments containing Lequanda’s tiny
however voluminous handwritten textual content (he additionally added a descriptive label beneath every
animal miniature, and appreciable textual content across the mine image). Inside this
second body aren’t solely 4 giant and 4 smaller photos depicting Peruvian aquatic animals but in addition (cut up right into a left-hand block and a right-hand block of 30 every) a collection of 60 miniature work, once more depicting Peruvian animals. Properly, 59 of them
are…

As for the 60th: That is the creature
portrayed within the miniature current on the right-hand finish of the highest row within the right-hand
block of 30 animal photos. It appears to have been painted with especial
precision by Thiébaut compared with sure different of the animals portrayed
by him in QHNCGRP, and was labeled right here
by Lequanda as a mountain-abounding ‘Dominican monkey’.

 

The
so-called ‘Dominican monkey’ miniature portray in close-up; and in addition proven (arrowed,
prime row) in situ inside QHNCGRP
click on to enlarge for viewing functions (public area)

In actuality, nevertheless, as anybody even
remotely versed in mammalian identification will readily affirm, this
specific creature, its distinctive monochrome type being each immediately recognizable
and wholly unmistakable, is definitely a black-and-white ruffed lemur Varecia variegata, the species depicted in
the {photograph} opening this ShukerNature article, and which is after all
endemic to Madagascar! No lemurs of any sort happen wherever within the New World.

So why is there a portrait of a
Madagascan lemur in QHNCGRP, which is
solely dedicated to Neotropical pure historical past and tradition?

Essentially the most cheap clarification, indicated
by Lequanda’s accompanying textual content (and in addition famous by Bleichmar in her afore-mentioned
article), stems from his nice familiarity with the contents of Madrid’s
prestigious – and exceedingly prodigious – Royal Pure Historical past Cupboard, which
was based in 1771 and opened to the general public in 1776. For inside its assortment
of zoological specimens was none aside from a preserved instance of the
black-and-white ruffed lemur. As this assortment would have been consulted by
each Lequanda and Thiébaut throughout their joint preparation of QHNCGRP, one or each of them presumably
assumed mistakenly that the lemur specimen was of South American origin, and
thus its placing look was included accordingly inside QHNCGRP. However that’s not all.

There’s a second animal miniature in QHNCGRP that additionally attracted my curiosity
and a spotlight when perusing the latter’s artworks. If you wish to hunt down this
image in QHNCGRP, it is the second
miniature alongside within the fourth row throughout the right-hand block of 30 animal
miniatures. Or, to make issues less complicated, right here it’s:

 

The
so-called ‘Nonga’ miniature portray in close-up; and in addition proven (arrowed, fourth row) in situ inside QHNCGRP
click on to enlarge for viewing functions (public area)

Based on Lequanda’s accompanying
textual content, the Nonga lives on the banks of the River Huallaga (whose supply is in central
Peru), and is a nocturnal creature significantly feared by the Indians, however which
in line with Lequansda appears to be a forest spirit quite than an actual entity.

After I first checked out this creature, I
thought right away that it resembled a tree sloth in fundamental outward morphology.
However tree sloths don’t stand upright, nor are they significantly feared by natives,
and much from being forest spirits they’re very acquainted members of the corporeal
animal group all through the Neotropical zone.

Nevertheless, their extinct family the bottom
sloths did stand upright, may properly be significantly feared by natives because of their very
giant measurement and big claws, particularly in the event that they occurred to be ill-tempered
creatures, readily changing into aggressive if threatened, and, like many different belligerent
beasts, might certainly be deemed by their human neighbours to be supernatural
spirits as a lot as flesh-and-blood animals.

So may this miniature by Thiébaut be a
depiction of a modern-day, scientifically-undiscovered floor sloth? Sure South
American cryptids, such because the ellengassen and (particularly) the mapinguary, are
already appeared upon by some cryptozoologists and zoologists as doubtlessly
constituting surviving floor sloths.

 

Picture
of a floor sloth (public area)

Sadly for such romantic
hypothesis, nevertheless, the depicted creature’s tiny tail is far more comparable
with that of a three-toed tree sloth (two-toed tree sloths are tailless) than with
the pretty lengthy and really sturdy caudal appendage exhibited by bona fide floor
sloths, which they used for help and steadiness when squatting upright.

Consequently, my private opinion is that
this mystifying miniature portray was primarily based upon a preserved three-toed tree
sloth, however whose regular behaviour of hanging upside-down from tree branches was
not recognized to Liébaut, so he portrayed it incorrectly as a bipedal beast
as an alternative, thereby inadvertently recalling its formally extinct terrestrial
family.

Nor are a misplaced Madagascan lemur and a suspect sloth of the terrestrial selection the one zoological oddities to be present in QHNCGRP click on right here for a continuation of this investigation, by which I reveal all method of extra animals of the decidedly anomalous sort lurking incognito inside its miniature masterpieces!

My honest thanks as soon as once more to Cristian
Nahuel Rojas Mendoza for alerting me to QHNCGRP
and, in so doing, including one other very intriguing zoogeographical anomaly from the
artwork world to my archive of such examples. For a particularly in depth account of putative
residing floor sloths, remember to take a look at my ebook Nonetheless In Search
Of Prehistoric Survivors
.


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