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Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum

3D Image - with white background

A beached whale near Beverwijk, The Camelopard, The Monstrous Pig, The Famous Porcupine, Dürer’s Rhinoceros: these are but a few of the beautiful and bizarre creatures that feature in Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum by Alison E. Wright, due out from the British Museum Press on 16 September.

The invention of printmaking in Europe coincided with a rapidly increasing curiosity about the natural world. Before photography, printed images were crucial to communicating information (or misinformation) about new and familiar species. At the same time, animals were viewed primarily in relation to the human world. Many animals in prints were designed to be interpreted symbolically or as holding moral lessons for humanity, while images of hunting, farming and menageries show that people have always turned to animals both for the necessities of life and for entertainment.

Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum draws on the British Museum’s exceptional collection of prints from the fifteenth early nineteenth century to offer a glimpse into a vibrant visual culture. Visually appealing, entertaining and intriguing, this book explores humankind’s enduring curiosity about the animal world.

We’ve included a sneak peak of our forthcoming book here ahead of publication.

The monstrous pig

Curious Beasts 73

The monstrous pig of Landser

c. 1496

Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528)

Engraving, 118 x 126 mm


On 1 March 1496 a piglet was born in the village of Landser, in Alsace, with one head, two bodies and a surprising number of legs, tongues and ears. It lived for just one day, but its fame spread far beyond its small village with the production of printed broadsides with simple woodcut illustrations and long moral texts, indulging the public’s curiosity and dread about what it signified. Birth abnormalities (‘monstrous births’) were often interpreted in the early modern period as portents or bad omens. Dürer must have seen one of these broadsides and, characteristically fascinated by the variety of animal form, made this investigative engraving of what such a creature would like, informed by his own studies of pigs. In the background, the castle and Landser locates the ‘monster’ in a solid, verifiable setting, persuading the viewer to accept its unlikely appearance – and perhaps, to speculate on the doom about to visit the inhabitants.

Text and image © The Trustees of the British Museum

Extracted from Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum, published by the British Museum Press in paperback at £9.99. To read more about Curious Beasts and to look inside the book, you can visit our website here.