Even though I don’t jump on the Halloween train here in Salem, I do decorate my house for the season. I can’t help it; I am an habitual holiday decorator. And I generally invite people over for Halloween night, not because I want to celebrate, but because I want them to hand out the bags of candy for the hours that it takes to appease the hordes of trick-or-treaters here in Salem while I hang out in the back. So I like the house to look festive. My fall decorating theme of the past few years—lots of owls everywhere—has become far too common so this year it’s all about bats. Unlike most people, I don’t find bats even remotely scary or icky. To me, they look cute and interesting and unique—a mammal that flies! So I’m enjoying the various bats around the house; I may even keep them around until Christmas.
My decorating approach is both historically crafty and acquisitive; I look for historic images that I might be able do reproduce somehow—cards, garlands, decoupage–and I shop. Since Etsy has been around I’ve done less and less crafting and more and more buying! There are lots of digitized historic images of bats available, from the medieval bestiaries, early modern natural histories and nineteenth-century encyclopedias. Here are some of my favorites, in chronological order.
Seemingly very modern, but actually from the seventeenth century, is the Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera’s Studies of Two Ears and a Bat from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its motto: Fulget Semper Virtus (Virtue Shines Forever).
But it’s in the next century that we get the best bats: the bats of the Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-88. Buffon’s pioneering and lavishly-illustrated (by French illustrator Jacques de Seve) 36-volume Natural History: General and Particular (1749-88) contains illustrations of all sorts of bats, from long-eared to vampire (first named by Buffon), and as it was a reprinted frequently over the next century-and-a-half it is a treasure trove for hunters of antique animal images. Here are some of my favorite Buffon bats from the 1753-54 volumes of the Natural History, via the University of Strasbourg:
A variety of bats from the 1799 edition of Buffon’s Natural History:
The Etsy seller antiqueprintstore has digitized images of bats from an 1831 edition of Buffon for sale; their postcard-sized prints can be used in a variety of ways. I post them up on my parlor mirrors, along with the usual seasonal paraphernalia.
Tuesday Addendum: I wanted to add this great 1919 Salem postcard, generously forwarded to me by the Salem native, author, collector, and researcher extraordinaire Nelson Dionne. I love it!