The Rhino and the Flea – “Curiosity” at Turner Contemporary

The latest offering from Margate’s Turner Contemporary is “Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing” which is a contemporary curatorial take on the cabinet of curiosities, showcasing an eccentric array of things from historic prints and drawings to taxidermy, a variety of contemporary art, works by the gallery’s namesake, J M W Turner (in this case, studies of birds’ heads), and other things besides.

Two works in the first room caught my interest with my Blake hat on. The first is Dürer’s famous rhinoceros woodcut (1515; view via the British Museum’s website), which I suspect influenced Blake’s figure of Behemoth in his Illustrations to the Book of Job (view via the University of Manchester’s LUNA). As mentioned in a previous post, Blake admired Dürer’s work, and assuming he knew the print, I suspect the combination of text and image and way in which the rhinoceros is almost forcing its way out of the borders of the picture would have appealed to Blake. I’m fairly sure the link between the two images must have been suggested before, but since I’m currently taking a break from the books I can’t check up on this.

The second Blake radar was Robert Hooke’s engraving of a flea from his book Micrographia (1665; see the work and read the late Tom Lubbock’s article about it via The Independent’s website). Hooke’s flea is magnified on a huge scale, on a page that folds out of the book, so that it becomes a kind of monster. It’s another work Blake may well have known and could have influenced his painting The Ghost of a Flea (c.1819-20; view via the Tate’s website; again, this is something I’m sure has been suggested before).

I wonder if there will ever be a “Blake Contemporary”. With his cottage in Felpham up for sale (see estate agent Jackson-Stops’ website), perhaps the right pioneers could create “The Blake at Bognor” (Bognor Regis being the larger neighbour of Felpham) which could be the latest seaside regeneration gallery.


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