Strap your tinfoil hats on, get your art history glasses strapped around that curious head of yours, because we’re about to talk about a rather interesting renaissance painting. Don’t worry, I promise this is interesting and absolutely nothing like the art classes you took in grade 8.
Our favourite Aussie TikTok art historian @_theiconoclass (Mary McGillivray) is back on the case with a curious piece of art from 1496, which if you look very carefully at, contains a full-blown Aussie cockatoo.
Yep, a bloomin’ cockatoo, many, many years before anyone knew that such a thing even existed. I mean, the west coast of Australia wasn’t even mapped out until 1606, so it’s pretty fkn incredible.
Here, have a look for yourself at Andrea Mantegna‘s Madonna della Vittoria. Pay close attention to the bird on the branches just above the throne.
Rebecca Mead first wrote about the strange phenomenon in The New York Times last month, and spoke to Melbourne historian Heather Dalton about the matter. Ultimately, Dalton confirmed that the painting reveals to us that the medieval world was a lot more connected than we originally thought.
Now, McGillivray has picked up where Dalton has left off, adding some spicy new details about the painting that have my brain fully activated, and my thinking cap ON.
In her TikTok vid, McGillivray asks just how the hell the cockatoo ended up in a renaissance painting “over a century before Europeans first made contact with Australia?”
“This painting was commissioned by Francesco II Gonzaga, the ruler of Mantua in the 1490s, which is well before the first Dutch explorers mapped the west coast of Australia in 1606.
“What’s even more interesting is that there is an even earlier image of a cockatoo in a 13th century manuscript. The text tells us that the cockatoo was a gift from the fourth Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt, al-Malik Muhammad al-Kamil, to Holy Roman Emperor Frederik II, who apparently was really fond of birds.
“Now, it’s most likely that the cockatoos that found themselves traded and transported all the way to Europe in this period were from Indonesia and not mainland Australia.
Well, if that doesn’t get your wings in flight I don’t know what will.
If you need me, I’m going to be inspecting the Mona Lisa with a fine-tooth comb. Who knows, maybe she was smiling at a kookaburra.