This is the second part to Dr Mark Stocker’s series of blogs asking you to help identify a number of butterflies, moths, and other insects in a series of 17th century prints by Anglo-Czech etcher Wenceslaus Hollar.
Mark has been working with Te Papa bug experts Dr Phil Sirvid and Dr Julia Kasper to identify the insects but they haven’t managed to identify them all – can you help?
A deafening buzz
Part I created a deafening buzz and Facebook ‘favourites’, including one from Simon Turner, the world’s foremost Hollar expert. We hope Part II will now attract further swarms of enthusiasts, whether or not they know their bugs or indeed their 17th century art history.
At this stage, two impressive insect people, Dr Vazrick Nazari and Daniel Llavaneras, have flown into the lead for the glamorous prize of a jar of manuka honey, but the game remains very open.
Without further ado, let’s look at the remaining plates in the series, with observations along the way from Phil and Julia. You will notice that several of the insects or bugs are given ‘possible’ identifications as well as a few remaining ‘unknown’. Do tell us if you disagree (we won’t feel stung), and even better, help us fill our gaps!
As there is a moth in this plate (see below) it needs to be re-titled by art historians.
- Top row: Scarce swallowtail butterfly – Iphiclides podalarius. The hindwings appear rather faded in this image and the prominent spots at the junction of the rear edge and innermost margin are not as apparent as we would expect. Despite the name ‘scarce’, this species is actually quite common. The scarcity of British migrants explains the name, though Hollar might have based this specimen from one he observed while working on the series in present-day Belgium
- Bottom row, left: Queen of Spain fritillary butterfly – Issoria lathonia
- Bottom row, centre: Paper wasp – Polistes gallicus. Only one pair of wings rather than two pairs are depicted. As the fore- and hind-wings can be linked to one another by hooks, this can give the appearance of only a single pair of wings
- Bottom row, right: Cream-spot tiger moth – Epicallia villicia. The wings are in an unnatural pose for a moth
- Top row, left: Soldier beetle (family Cantharidae)
- Top and bottom row, centre: Red underwing moth – Catocala nupta. View from above and below. The last pair of legs in the lower image seems too far to the rear (they should be on the thorax)
- Top row, right: Cinnamon bug – Corizus hyoscami
- Middle row, left: Unknown
- Middle row, right: Possibly a gossamer-winged butterfly (family Lycaenidae). The spotty pattern looks more like artistic licence than an attempt at accuracy
- Bottom row, left: Possibly a bee or wasp of some kind, with the wings of unusual shape and vein arrangement
- Bottom row right: Seven-spot ladybird – Coccinella septempunctata
- Top row, left: Another bumble-bee species, genus Bombus. The comments about the bumble-bee wings from plate 6 in the previous blog also apply here: their shape is odd and is possibly an attempt by Hollar to represent movement
- Top row, right: Cream-spot tiger moth – Epicallia villicia. This also appears on plate 7, but the plate 9 version is shown in a more standard entomology collection pose with wings outspread
- Middle row, left: Spanish festoon butterfly – Zerynthia rumina
- Middle row, right: A species of gossamer-winged butterfly (family Lycaenidae)
- Bottom row, left: Mottled tortoise moth – Euplagia quadripunctaria
- Bottom row, right: Light crimson underwing moth – Catocala promissa. The antennae appear to be drawn like a butterfly’s, with clubbed tips
- Top row, left: Possibly the small tortoiseshell butterfly – Aglais urticae
- Top and bottom row, right: Painted lady butterfly– Vanessa cardui
- Bottom row, left: Possibly the speckled wood butterfly – Pararge aegeria
- Top row left: Unknown beetle. Mark observes: ‘This makes me think of a favourite pop song, The Beatles: “Help!”’
- Top row centre: Old world swallowtail butterfly – Papilio machaon
- Top row right: A ladybird of some sort (family Coccinellidae)
- Middle row left: Possibly a gossamer-wing butterfly (family Lycaenidae)
- Middle row right: Unknown
- Bottom row left: Possibly a gossamer-wing (family Lycaenidae) viewed from below
- Bottom row middle: Scarlet tiger moth – Callimorpha dominula
- Bottom row right: Possibly the comma butterfly – Polygonia c-album
As two of the insects in this plate are almost certainly moths, it needs to be re-titled by art historians.
- Top row, left: Possibly a tiger moth (subfamily Arctiinae), but if so it is depicted in the ‘at rest’ pose of a butterfly
- Top row, right: Old world swallowtail – Papilio machaon
- Middle row, right: Possibly a brush-footed butterfly (family Nymphalidae)
- Bottom row, left: A species of fritillary – Argynnis sp
- Bottom row, right: Possibly the garden tiger moth – Arctia caja. If so, there is some artistic licence as the wing shape and pattern are very unusual. The rear wing margin would not be undulating as shown here
Elephants in the vivarium
Hollar obviously depicted either what existed in Lord Arundel’s collection or what he could find in the lowlands in and around Antwerp. The species he immortalised were all common over 370 years ago, and largely remain so today.
The obvious ‘elephants in the vivarium’ that he did not depict are the Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) and the Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta). We don’t know why. It seems apparent that Hollar was captivated by prettier butterflies and moths as he progressed.
The absence of worms – ‘vermium’ in the series title – remains another puzzle unless, as seems highly likely, he happily conflated them with caterpillars. Remember this is a century before the taxonomic exactitude of Carl Linnaeus. That said, we are sure you too have been impressed by the credibility as well as the beauty of Hollar’s etchings.
Part III, the results and prize-winner
When our identification exercise is as complete as possible, Phil, Julia, and I intend to formally write up our – and your – findings – in a top art history journal, reaffirming Te Papa’s commitment to quality research. But before we do so, watch out for Part III, announcing the results and lucky winner!