Zacharias Wehme

Native to New Guinea and surrounding islands, birds of paradise—or rather, their dried and dissected skins—first reached mainland Europe in 1522. Collectors admired the birds’ iridescent feathers and were puzzled by what they perceived to be an unusual anatomy. When birds of paradise were dissected and their skins prepared for export to Europe, their feet were usually removed, which led to the false belief that the species was in constant flight. This drawing marvels at the bird’s brilliant plumage, executed in varied shades of brown, black, and white watercolor. It likely depicts the first bird of paradise recorded to have reached the Dresden court at the end of the sixteenth century.

Zacharias Wehme
German, 1558–1606
Dead Bird of Paradise, ca. 1580–90
Watercolor and opaque watercolor
Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, INV. NO. C 1961-86
© Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Photo: Herbert Boswank