The art of science and the science of art.

Invasive Species Inhabit Painting


{link url=""}Orphée (Orpheus) by Gustave Moreau{/link}, 1865; Musée d'Orsay.


Looking at Symbolist Master Gustave Moreau's Orphée I am struck by something. No, not the exquisitely beautiful severed head. The two box turtles hanging out in the corner, trying to be under the radar.

I may not be a cheloniologist, but l think those are North American Box Turtles. Or possibly Indian Star Tortoises. Indian Star Tortoises may be more likely since Symbolists like Moreau were obsessed with a kind of romanticized "Oriental" aesthetic when they threw jewellery and patterned drapery around in their paintings. In any case, what are they doing in a painting by a French Symbolist set in Greek legend?

Invasive species? A piece of exotic ephemera?

How many other paintings in fine art history feature species out of their proper geological place?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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