Send us a message


Local Records


Thursday, September 21, 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm

The Feather Book of Dionisio Minaggio, 1618

Carla Benzan, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, McGill University

Location: Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill Library
4th floor – 3459 rue McTavish

Workshop led by Carla Benzan on histories of making images of nature with materials drawn from nature and our fascination with the boundary zone between the human and animal.

The interface between human and animal is literally raised on the surface of a seventeenth-century “Feather Book” depicting over one hundred birds along with a cast of human figures all composed through the intricate application of real feathers and bird skin on the page. Blurring the boundary between the ‘real’ and ‘representation’, this intriguing object prompts questions about the role of materiality, affect and embodiment in knowledge formation. Produced in 1618 by Dionisio Minaggio, the Chief Gardener of the Spanish State of Milan, the Feather Book couples the objectivity of scientific illustration in its representations of regional birds with portraits of known stage actors in their signature roles. Techniques employed draw influence from Central American feather decoration as encountered through the sixteenth-century European market after contact, as well as the popular tradition of Italian ‘pietra dura’ where detailed landscapes are set out in inlaid stone. Troubling the act of mimesis with the presence of the real, these feather collages bring to question the specious divide between nature and artifice. This workshop explores the intersection of bodily, emotional and conceptual work that is demanded of viewers who confront such imagery.

Carla Benzan is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at McGill University who has published on contemporary, modern and early modern art. Her past and present research investigates the status of sacred images and new strategies of illusionism in the sculpture, painting, and printed images of northern Italy after the Council of Trent. Since completing her PhD dissertation on the Sacro Monte of Varallo at the University College London, Carla has been a Teaching Fellow at UCL and a Lecturer and Visiting Scholar at the University of Essex.

Local Records is a program that pairs exhibitions with relevant archival holdings in Montreal. Animated by a guest researcher each seminar coordinates encounters and discussions around a selection of primary documents, offering a local lens through which to consider the exhibition and a point of departure for new research.


August 30 – October 21, 2017

Curator: Michèle Thériault