In the late eighteenth century, aviaries and menageries were the height of fashion amongst the upper classes. Chief Justice Sir Elijah Impey and his wife Lady Mary Impey were no exception – but unlike most families, the memory of their animal collection lives on.
Some time around 1780, Lady Impey decided to commission a small group of traditional Indian artists from Patna to immortalise many of her birds on canvas. The result is an array of striking, large-scale studies of Indian and exotic birds, that are now on display at the Ashmolean Museum.
Much of the work is by Shaikh Zain ud-Din, an artist whose skills neatly combined the refined technique of Mughal art with the emerging trends in scientific drawing of the time. The results, then, are both beautifully painted and anatomically accurate, a combination which makes the works feel almost alive.
The exhibition runs from 16th October 2012 to 16th February 2013, in Gallery 29 of the Ashmolean Museum. Entrance is free.