Taxidermy played a pivotal role in the renewal of the Spanish Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid during the first few decades of the twentieth century. This essay examines the work of the brothers José María Benedito (1873–1951) and Luis Benedito (1884–1955) and their part in the making of a remarkable series of biological groups and habitat dioramas, mainly devoted to the most characteristic species of Spanish fauna. The Benedito brothers’ taxidermy mounts can be viewed as an attempt to construct a new image of a national fauna. From this point of view, taxidermic practices appear as an integral component of an ambitious educational and cultural project, with their foundations in the scientific work of the museum’s zoologists, and aimed at a broad, educated public, at a time of widespread political effort to reinvigorate Spanish society. Indeed, efforts to regenerate a troubled Spanish national identity and to promote science and education as drivers of social progress are typical of the critical turn-of-the-century period. In this context, the Benedito brothers’ work at the museum can be related both to an international trend to modernize natural history displays in museums around the world, and to more specific cultural and scientific developments characteristic of the processes of modernization at work in early twentieth-century Spanish society. Modern taxidermy, it is argued, has been incorporated in various ways into political and cultural discourses contingent on national contexts, while at the same time its technical procedures have remained essentially unchanged.
- museum history
- natural history displays
- nationalism and science
- José María Benedito
- Luis Benedito
- Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (Madrid)
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