The Bells of the Ornithologist Father Jean Baptiste Fourcault

A 200 years old collection

By Sistema Museale Università di Parma

La vetrinaSistema Museale Università di Parma

The Fourcault Collection 

Thirty-five birds and a mammal, taxidermized and enclosed in glass bells, are what remains of the largest original collection, conceived by Jean Baptiste Fourcault. Still intact after more than two centuries, this collection represents the origin of the Natural History Museum of the University of Parma, as well as one of the oldest zoological collections preserved in an Italian museum.

Il bigliettoSistema Museale Università di Parma

Jean Baptiste Fourcault and the origin of the Natural History Museum

Jean Baptiste Fourcault, friar of the Convent of the Minims, was born in France in 1719. Known both for his skills as an embalmer and illustrator of animals and for his relevant systematic research, he arrived in Parma in 1763, appointed ornithologist at the Ducal Court of Philip I of Bourbon. In a few years Fuorcault completed his work: a fundamental ornithological collection that gave rise in 1766 to the Ornithology Cabinet which later became the Museum of Natural History, which he directed until his death in 1775. de SAR l`Infant Duc de Parme ”, as appears in the upper part of the autographed note found in one of the glass bells, where he appears in a medallion surrounded by all sorts of birds in flight and resting on foliage.

La vetrinaSistema Museale Università di Parma

The cabinet

In a cabinet from the same period, 11 intact, perfectly preserved vases are arranged in three rows, containing, clockwise from right to bottom: Squirrel (and two walnuts); · Robin; Sparrow of Italy (m.); Having it small (m. And f.); Chaffinch (m.); Long-tailed tit; Regulus; Canary; Wagtail (2 specimens); Great tit; Ortola-no; · House Martin; Nightingale; Northern Wheatear (m.); White dancer; Swallow; · Averla cenerina (2 specimens); · Assiolo (and three eggs); · Verdone; Strillozzo; · Green woodpecker; Great spotted woodpecker; Rosy starling (and two eggs); Jay; Collared parakeet (and two eggs, two nuts, Vanessa atalanta, Stag.

Lo Scoiattolo di FourcaultSistema Museale Università di Parma

The mystery of his work

The glass bells have an extremely small mouth as the only access, which was sealed after introducing the animals, all of which are much larger than the mouth and in absolutely natural and rather complicated poses. It is impossible to understand the technique used by Fourcault, which has since intrigued many scholars: it still remains an undisclosed mystery of which Fourcault remains the sole inventor and custodian. The same vases would be unique, at least for this type of use, perhaps made specifically by Fourcault himself.

Sciurus vulgaris

In 1884, the then director of the Pellegrino Strobel Museum described the collection as follows: "It consists of a dozen glass pedestal bells, opened only at the top through a circular hole with a diameter of 15 to 30 millimeters, which was closed from a wooden stopper held internally by means of transverse sticks, or from a glass stopper, so that it can no longer be removed.

The stuffed animals, almost all birds, enclosed in those glass bells, are still, after more than a century, perfectly preserved and intact, without any trace of woodworm. They are placed there like certain toys in bottles, coming from Germany (Nuremberg?) "(Pellegrino Strobel. The Natural History Cabinet of the Royal University of Parma. Tip. Rossi - Ubaldi, Parma 1884)

La Ghiandaia di FourcaultSistema Museale Università di Parma

Scops Zorca

As a reminder of the secrecy of his technique, Fourcault, with the wit typical of the naturalists of the Enlightenment, inserted a small scroll with the inscription: "J'atteste que le p. Fourcault Minime m'a fait entrer dans ce cylindre par son orifice 1774 ", which translated sounds like this:" I confirm that Father Fourcault made me enter this vase by passing through its opening ".

L'Assiolo di FourcaultSistema Museale Università di Parma

Scops owl
The vase containing the Assiolo bears a French wording, applied on the axis of the perch, which protest the honesty of its construction: "que le lecteur ne s'imagine pas que ce juchoir ne soit composé que de trois pièces comme il le parait et qu'il n'ait can pass par le col du cylindre c'est une erreur des plus grossières. À la cour de Parme 4 mai 1773 ".

Il manoscritto di P.FourcaultSistema Museale Università di Parma

The message in the bell

Inside a bell there is a note in French which is supposedly Fourcault's autograph, which is a sort of spiritual testament of his technique, which reads: "Father Jean Baptiste Fourcault, of the French Minimal Friars, an ornithologist to His Royal Highness, the young Duke of Parma, was born in Fontaine francaise, in the Duchy of Burgundy, near Dijon, on 4 May 1719.The procedure of closing the objects in the cylinder by introducing them through its small orifice was devised by him in 1765 after a long series of years of tests which he brought to perfection in 1771. It is a secret of which he is the inventor and sole owner "

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