Carnegie Museum of Natural History will relocate and restore one of its most iconic pieces – The Arab Courier – this year and design new interpretive signage for the work.
The 1867 diorama depicts a dramatic scene in which lions are attacking a North African courier on camelback. The piece is a rare three-dimensional example of the romantic “Orientalism” artistic style, which had its heyday in the mid to late 19th century. It remains today a signature piece in the museum’s collection.
“The Arab Courier is as at least as much a work of art as it is a scientific or cultural representation,” Eric Dorfman, director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, said. “It is so well loved that we’re moving it to a more prominent site and its relevance to visitors of both the Museum of Art and Natural History make its new location ideal.”
When the glass panels of the diorama are temporarily detached during the move, the museum will take the opportunity to restore the diorama and perform additional research.
“We plan to do a CAT scan to explore a long-standing rumor surrounding the diorama,” said Steve Tonsor, director of science and research. “We’ve known for ages that there are unidentified human teeth in the mannequin’s head, and this is an opportunity to discover whether there might also be other bone fragments.”
The diorama was made by a French company in the mid-1800s called Maison Verreaux. It was rare for taxidermists even in that era to use human remains in dioramas, and this new display will provide context to the evolving methods used by taxidermists over the years, as well as the current ethical standards used today. The diorama also shows two extinct Barbary lions, giving museum staff another avenue to explore regarding ethics and wildlife conservation.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History follows the ethical standards and guidelines set by the museum’s Ethics Committee and the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums.
The renovated diorama will be launched toward the end of this year, and will include information about the CAT scan as well as programming to offer more details about the history of this iconic diorama.