Bettelheim, M. P. 2023. The Cartographer’s Turtle: The Grotesque Origins of Renaissance Map Turtles. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(11):108–115. Published October 29, 2023.
Amongst the late sixteenth-century watercolor drawings of Dutch fisherman Adriaen Coenen can be found a sea creature: A flying turtle Coenen called the “sea-eagle” whose origins have yet to be firmly ascertained. Some historians have traced its ancestry as far back as two Renaissance maps dated to 1558. Another instance, Flemish engraver Cornelis Bos’ 1548 frieze The Triumph of Neptune, has yet to be described in the context of the “sea-eagle” and is reported here. Together, these examples establish the genesis of this Dutch zeemonster in an ornamental art style known as the Netherland Grotesque that emerged ca. 1540 and was pioneered by Flemish artists and their re-imagination of Italian grotesques. By tracing the history of these Renaissance maps and Bos’ frieze, the emergence of the “sea-eagle” is re-considered against the backdrop of the advent of the Netherland Grotesque.