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Natural Histories

Rhinoceros, by Albrecht Dürer, woodcut, 1515. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Wikimedia/Creative Commons.

For centuries, one grossly distorted woodcut defined the ideal of a rare beast.

Great dane, 1949 © Mary Evans Picture Library.

No canine character has played a more crucial role in literature than Bendicò in Lampedusa’s The Leopard.

'The Worm Turns': cartoon of Darwin and an earthworm, Popular Science Monthly, c.1881. Bridgeman Images.

Worms are among the simplest of creatures. But, as Darwin discovered, even they share things in common with humanity.

Swallow, illustration by Hector Giacomelli, c.1885 © Bridgeman Images.

It was once believed that swallows spent their winters on the Moon, or asleep on river beds. 

Matador Manuel Granero with the bull, Pocapena, in Madrid, 7 May 1922. Granero would die as a result of being gored during this fight. Photograph by Ernest Hemingway © Ullstein Bild/Getty Images.

Ernest Hemingway’s love of bullfighting bordered on obsession. Did he see his own insecurities reflected in the ring?

An eel, probably a serpent eel, from Aquatilium animalium historiea, liber primus, by Ippolito Salviani, 1554 © British Library Board/Bridgeman Images.

The slippery subject of eel reproduction evaded human understanding for millennia.

Guardroom with Monkeys, by David Teniers the Younger, c.1633. Private Collection/Wikimedia/Creative Commons.

From wall paintings in Egyptian tombs to the margins of illuminated manuscripts, we have always used portrayals of monkeys to express our more animal side.

St Francis of Assisi Speaking with the Wolf of Gubbio, by Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo, ‘Il Sassetta’, 1437-44. Photo © Luisa Ricciarini/Bridgeman Images

The most maligned of creatures, since ancient times, wolves have played a central role in mythology.