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Vosmaer’s Eclectus

Ria Winters | Aug 13, 2011


The Eclectus parrot is a challenge to portray. The red of the female is so bright that it's difficult to render it correctly in paint. To determine the green of the male needs preparation because it's a matter of choosing the right tones which are quite different from the greens of grass and foliage. But the dimorphism between male and female is so striking that a painting with the complimentary green of the male and the red of the female will be a guaranteed success.

I portrayed the subspecies Eclectus roratus vosmaeri for two reasons, one being the presence of the large rim of yellow on the female's tail which adds another striking touch to the colour range, the other being the interesting figure after which the species was named: Aernout Vosmaer.

Vosmaer was born in Rotterdam in 1720 and grew up in the time that collecting exotic fauna was fashionable. In the 16hundreds countless fleets of the united trading companies found their way over the oceans and opened a new world. The traders brought back unknown species and a market for strange and beautiful animals arose. The collections were mostly used for display, either in small cabinets in fashionable houses, or out of size collections for the obsessive collector. Not only the bourgeois rich endulged in this way but some European royals also kept private menageries and huge natural history collections.

So did prince Willem V in Holland. Many of the animals and birds that lived and died in his private zoo in The Hague got a place in his cabinet to be admired by curious visitors.

Back to Vosmaer, who had his own collection of natural curiosities at a young age. He sold his collection (of some 15.000 items) to the Dutch royal family. Through this smart move he was later appointed as Director of the royal Cabinet and of the menagerie of prince Willem V where he kept expanding the collection that not only held specimens but also paintings and drawings, many of them made in private commission after the living or stuffed animals in the zoo or cabinet.
Vosmaer was not a scientist but had a good eye for observation and published several articles about the birds and animals in his care. His writings were mostly based on the behaviour and outer appearance, observed by himself. The articles were later bundled into the book "Regnum Animale".

One description was of the parrot that is now called "Vosmaer’s Eclectus or Vosmaeri Eclectus". He had a female in his care and noted there had been no mention of such a bird in the - then known - 95 parrot species. It was new to science.

Vosmaer called it "the big purple-red Lory from Ceylon" (1769) and described it as one of the most beautiful of all parrots. He lamented it only lived a few months in captivity and remarks that - in contrast to other lories - it did not want "to learn or say anything".

This is the image from Vosmaer's book, an engraving after the watercolour made by the famous wildlife illustrator of that time, Aart Schouman. In 1776 the species was described properly with the Linnaean classification. In 1922 it was recognized as an Eclectus subspecies and called after the man who made the first description of this bird from life. The specimen got lost but the painting remained. The Linnaean classification of 1776 and the 1922-description were based on Schouman's painting which makes it therefore a valuable "iconotype".