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Today Ferrebeekeeper travels far back in time across the long shadowy ages to the Western Zhou dynasty to feature this goose-shaped bronze zun (a ceremonial wine vessel). The Western Zhou dynasty lasted from 1046–771 BCE and was marked by the widespread use of iron tools and the evolution of Chinese script from its archaic to its modern form. Excavated in Lingyuan, Liaoning Province in 1955 this goose vessel is now held at the National Museum of China. I like the goose’s neutral expression and serrated bill!
Duccio di Buoninsegna was born in the middle of Sienna in the 13th century. Before his death in 1319 or 1320, Duccio combined the stiff formal conventions of Byzantine and Romanesque art with newfound Italian interests in modeled forms, three dimensional architectural interiors, and naturalistic emotions. Along with Cimabue, Giotto, and Pietro Cavallini he is regarded as one of the progenitors of Western art (and the sole father of Siennese gothic art).
Duccio’s painting Announcement of Death to the Virgin is one of only thirteen surviving works by the master. A beautiful gothic angel has materialized before Mary as she reads from a psalter. The heavenly visitor silently presents Christ’s mother with a palm frond to symbolize the coming death of her son. Mary gestures in resolute horror at the message. Beyond the three-dimensional room delicate arches lead to a background of blackness.
Little is known of Duccio’s life, but we know that it was a disorganized mess. He had seven children and thanks to an inability to manage money he was frequently in trouble with debts and fines. Fortunately his gifts as an artist outshone his problems with organization. By the beginning of the 14th century he was the most famous (and revolutionary) painter in Sienna and he managed to solve his financial problems by painting numerous commissions around the thriving communal republic.
The numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is a small marsupial termite eater with lovely banded fur and an incredibly long sticky tongue. These animals are also known as walpurtis. Although the creature’s claws are not strong enough to break into termite mounds, the numbat digs where termites are traveling between their mounds and their feeding grounds. It then rapidly gathers them up with its amazing tongue. Numbats are at most 45 centimeters long (about 18 inches) half of which is bushy tail. Large individuals only weigh half a kilogram (a bit more than a pound). They were discovered to Europeans in 1831 by an English naturalist who was delighted by their delicate appearance.
Numbats are not closely related to other marsupials and it is speculated that their nearest relative might be the thylacine, a marsupial predator extinct since 1936. Although once widespread, numbats had a near brush with extinction themselves: their population dipped below 1,000 during the late seventies. Foxes (which were introduced to provide sport to landowners before becoming deadly invaders) and other introduced predators were to blame for the near obliteration of the species. Even though they are now protected, numbats remain extremely endangered. Today they can only be found in miniscule protected habitats and in zoos. Speaking of zoos, the zooborns website features this ridiculously endearing clip of Australian zookeepers hand-rearing baby numbats.