Red-naped Shaheen by William Brodrick

Date Created: 17 April 2013

Author: William Brodrick (1814-1888)

Source: Rountree Fine Arts Gallery, London

Location: Rountree Fine Arts Gallery, London

Link to: Website

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William Brodrick (1814-1888)

Red-naped Shaheen Falcon

oil on canvas

signed with initials and dated '1878' (lower right)

22 x 16 in. (55.9 x 40.6 cm.)

Despite being the son of a barrister and having a degree in medicine from Edinburgh University, William Brodrick's fascination with birds of prey instead led him to pursue a career in falconry and taxidermy. His knowledge in both these areas inspired a talent in avian portraiture which he used to produce a collection of paintings and several books on the subject of falcons. Together with Francis H. Salvin, Brodrick published `Falconry in the British Isles' which was long considered the best falconry book.

This is the desert race of the Peregrine, generally referred to as the Barbary Falcon or Red Naped Shaheen. Despite being small, it is as fast and courageous as the European Peregrine, and has been flown by Falconers for many centuries. Its distribution in North Africa, from the Canary Islands to Egypt and beyond, includes the Sahara except for the arid interior. Such harsh environments (very hot by day and cold by night) have seen this species evolve into a powerful predator. Interestingly the 'Barbary Coast' was historically used to describe North West Africa, from the Arabic word 'Berber'.

Charles d'Arcussia, Lord of Esparron, writing in Provence in 1589, in his classic treatise on falconry, dedicated to Henry IV, included the Barbary falcon. English falconers rarely had the opportunity to acquire one.

In recent times Barbary falcons have bred on the Pyramids, and 3,500 years ago they were deified by the early Egyptians: it is easily identified in the beautiful artefacts as the gods Sopdu and Gemehsu (and in the head of the god Horus) revealed in Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

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