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Bayla Arietta

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

J.B. S. Haldane (1892-1964) was a British-Indian scientist known for his work in the study of physiology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and mathematics. The quote, “If there is a Creator, he must have an inordinate fondness for beetles” is famously attributed to him, and is in reference to the 400,000+ known species of beetles in the world, constituting almost 40% of all known insect species and 25% of all known animal life-forms.

Using the iconic and broadly recognizable imagery of an enthroned Madonna, a beetle larva replaces infant Christ on her richly embroidered lap. Though this painting does tie into the series No Gods but Nature, satirizing Christian symbolism and the clash between science and superstition, there are still a surprising number of connections between Christian iconography and the insect order Coleoptera. The medieval Irish Poem,The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee, tells the story of saint Íte of Killeedy, who fosters a giant stag-beetle before receiving Christ to wet nurse. 15th century German artist Albrecht Dürer challenged contemporary beliefs that insects were the lowest of creatures, and associated the beetle with Christ in paintings Madonna with a Multitude of Animals (c.1503) and Adoration of the Magi (1504). Stefan Lochner (1410-1451) also placed the arthropod among Mary, baby Jesus, and various Saints in the Altar of the City Patron of Cologne.

Lastly, in the gold halo encircling the Madonna’s head, a phylogenetic tree depicting 22 species of beetle is suitably overlaid. Number 22 is considered the number of Revelation, uniting the whole Bible and reflecting the 22 foundation Hebrew letters. There are 22 chapter 22's in the Bible, and the ancient African religion of the Bambara believed that God created the universe using 22 spirals. Ancient Egypt’s reverence for the scarab is well known, but beetles have crawled their way into religious symbolism time and time again.



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