Virtual Tour of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Humboldt Exhibition

This marks the first time the fossil has been back in America since 1847, when it made its way through Europe and ultimately ended up at The Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt in Germany. (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, Germany, Wolfgang Fuhrmannek)

This Mastodon is a Centerpiece of an Art Exhibition. Why?

by Alicia Ault/

It’s not what you’d expect from an art show. At the end of a long corridor, beyond a pulled-back heavy burgundy brocade curtain, a full-scale mastodon skeleton fills much of the rotunda-like space of the gallery. The fossil is the centerpiece of “Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. The show was poised to open with much fanfare earlier this year just as the COVID-19 crisis shuttered the museum. Today the stately mastodon sits waiting for crowds to return. In the meantime, viewers can go on a virtual tour of the show through a new video put together by the museum’s senior curator, Eleanor Jones Harvey.

For Harvey, the 11-foot tall, 20-foot long elephant ancestor is the uber statement on what polymath Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) meant to the American politicians, scientists, artists and writers who fawned over him during his brief six-week visit to the United States in 1804, and who became a part of his global network of admirers for a huge chunk of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

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