“The testimony of my own eyes”: The Strange Case of the Mammal with a Beak

Martin Kemp

Abstract


There has always been a significant element of trust when we look at an image of something we have not seen, above all when it looks naturalistic and convincing. Illustrators often employ naturalistic tricks in the service of the “rhetoric of reality.” The case study is the Australian Duck-Billed Platypus, which stretched credibility when it was first discovered, resembling an artificially confected monster. The first scientific account, by George Shaw in T he Naturalist’s Miscellany in 1799, is a masterpiece of wonder and scepticism in which he finally convinces himself and us of the reality of the strange beast. However, how many of us have seen a real one?

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