It is believed that taxidermy has been around for many centuries. It may even go back to the beginning of man. Saving trophies has always been a favorite pastime of man. When man first began to hunt he would want a trophy of his kill. The preservation methods were poor so there is no clear record of the beginning of taxidermy.
The Egyptians mummified their cats, dogs, and other animals at their death. In a way this is actually a form of taxidermy. It was all about preserving the bodies after death. Many of these mummies of animals have been found along with what is believed to be the owners of the animals.
During the Middle Ages taxidermy took a serious twist. The preservation methods improved greatly. Birds were often stuffed to use during falconry hunting. Although they were stuffed with some strange materials at times, the skin preservation had improved tremendously.
There is a mounting of a rhinoceros in a museum in Italy that is said to be the oldest mounting in the history of taxidermy. The mounting is believed to have been done in the 16th century. The preservation techniques were good enough that the mounting of the rhinoceros is still in great shape.
Pierre Belon, a naturalist is the first person to have written a book on how to do taxidermy. This book was written in 1555. Other instructions on this subject were later written during the 1600’s. The preservation methods have changed considerably since these books have been written.
Taxidermy became very popular during the Victorian era. People would go on their travels and want a memento of where they had been. Many times this was a mounting of an animal or bird. Also many museums started using mountings in their displays. This gave taxidermists a lot of business. The art of anthropomorphic taxidermy started about this time. This special niche of taxidermy uses animals in poses that would actually be found in humans instead of animals. There is a very famous piece that was done by Walter Potter. In this mounting kittens are posed as if at a tea party having tea and mice.
The 20th century brought about the modern era in taxidermy. Posing animals and birds as they would appear in real life became popular and is still popular today. Some of the well-known taxidermists of the 20th century are Van Ingen & Van Ingen, William T. Horneday, Leon Pray, and Carl E. Akeley. The mountings started having a form placed inside the preserved skin instead of being stuffed with straw and other materials. The forms make it possible to have a more realistic shape and look to the animal. The forms are made to look like the animal would if seen in the wild.
Although taxidermy is not as popular as it was in the Victorian era, it is still an art form which people can appreciate. People still enjoy their trophies and museums still use mounts in their displays. Today the art of preservation has reached its pinnacle and the mounts will last for a very, very long time.