Feather Book

I have begun researching a remarkable Libro di Piume or ‘Feather Book’ held in the Blacker-Wood Collection at McGill University: 156 feather collages that represent birds and human characters of Lombardy through the intricate application of real feathers, preserved bird talons and beaks, and other natural materials on the page. Produced circa 1618 by the gardener to the Spanish Governor of Milan, Dionisio Minaggio, the Feather Book transforms featherwork traditions from New Spain to depict an impressive range of 112 birds, sixteen hunters and bird catchers, thirteen Commedia dell’Arte characters and actors, eight musicians, five tradesmen or labourers, and one townscape. With the exception of two Amazonian parrots and two ‘oriental’ hunting figures, the avian and human subjects depicted in the Feather Book are entirely indigenous to Lombardy and local knowledge is reasserted, moreover, through labels in red ink in the hand of the artist, in Milanese dialect.

Between feather and image, the Feather Book is neither global, nor local. It operates within a decentred sphere of encounter and exchange in the scientific, political, and religious networks that connect New Spain, Spanish-ruled Lombardy, and related collections from Spain to Bologna, Turin, and Prague. In this article-length project I consider the ethical and political stakes of the material conversion of feather into image. The naturalism of the Feather Book may attempt to tame the local Lombard terrain for its Spanish owner, but the presence of the real troubles the act of mimesis, complicating a hierarchical imposition of power through the act of representation.


“Avian Surfaces and artisanal knowledge in Spanish Milan,” Artisans of the Surface in Early Modern Europe, 1450-1750. Workshop organized by the Renaissance Skin Project. King’s College, London. 20–21 September, 2018.

“The Feather Book of Dionisio Minaggio,” The Eyes Have It: Casey Wood’s contribution to ophthamology, ornithology, and the McGill library. Conference Organized by Rare & Special Collections, Osler, Art, and Archives. McGill University, April 20, 2018.

“Between Feather and Image: naturalism and conversion in Dionisio Minaggio’s Feather Book, c. 1618,” Objects of Conversion in Early Modern Europe. Conference organized by the Early Modern Conversions Project. Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California Los Angeles, 15–17 February, 2018. 

“Flights of Fantasy in Dionisio Minaggio’s Feather Book,” Séminar des Nouveaux Modernes. Université du Québec à Montréal, 26 January 2018.

“Dionsio Minaggio’s Feather Book: materiality and embodied knowledge,” Local Records. Workshop presentation for the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition Carnations by artist Philippe Hamelin. Concordia University, Montréal, 21 September, 2017.