237. The Oranienburg Fox

Berlin, Germany, mid-18th century
Size: 102 × 149 cm
Oil on canvas

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The pelts of the Oranienburg fox with two tails, the albino fox and the marten were preserved in the Royal Treasure Chamber of Art and Natural Objects, Berlin, which were used by the anonymous painter. Cabinets of Curiosity often included a selection of natural freaks, and while their fascination has roots in the Ancient World where they were considered portents, it is only quite recently that they have fallen out of favour. When I was a child all the fairs had booths with mermaids, bearded ladies, Siamese twins and such like on show, that one could view for a small consideration. In The Tempest, Trinculo likes the idea of getting Caliban to England, so that holiday fools will pay to gawk at the monster. It could be argued that TV programmes like ‘Dating Naked’ and ‘Plastic Surgeon’ are the modern equivalents of such freak shows. The fox with two tails was engraved by Johann Elias Ridinger in the mid-18th century.