Sunday, October 9, 2011

The eagle; what species is it?

The eagle against black
One thing struck me in particular about the eagle, the fur-like treatment of the feathers on the neck and body of the eagle. It resembles the pelt of a bear or the mane of a lion more than the feathers of a bird. I recalled seeing such treatment of the f Roman sculptures of eagles, but was finding very few examples in my books or online. I have a pretty good visual memory, so if I think I saw it, I am sure I did, it is just a matter of finding it again. Strangely, once I started looking for Roman representations of eagles, I found very few. While we strongly associate the eagle with Imperial Rome, when looking for representations of eagles at the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, I found hardly any. In Rome I believe there are more, but I can find few illustrated in my books. I will have to make a trip to Europe to revisit Rome to find the one I remember seeing with this distinct fur-like treatment of the feathers.

Apart looking for ancient parallels the question I asked was, is this fur-like feathering based on nature?  For this Google proved invaluable as a source of images of eagles. I found that one species of eagle that does have this type of feathering on the body, the Golden Eagle. This made sense to me,  since it is the largest eagle that the Romans would have known of, and is because it is so majestic it became the symbol of the king of the Gods, Zeus.

A golden eagle on Google
In the photo a and you can see how the feathers of the neck go down to cover the body, no distinction between the neck and body. The feathers are long and tapered to a fine point, and are not stiff like wing feathers.

Golden eagle and carcass in winter
The action photo above of an eagle scavenging a winter carcass allows us to see how the feathers on the legs and body are fur-like.

The above images and others I have found, demonstrate that golden eagles have wispy long pointed feathers covering their neck and bodies down to their legs, that can look fur-like. Given the Roman and Greek interest in naturalistic depiction, this at least would seem to support the possible Roman date of this eagle. Now I needed to find other ancient Roman eagles with similar feathering of the body.

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