Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt

Ludwig Vordermayer Heubach

raven rossetti
The Raven – pen and ink drawing on paper by Rossetti.
ca 1848, V&A, London
It’s that time of year again with Halloween fast approaching that thoughts turn to the bleak and morbid and ravens. Famously, this ‘Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt’ bird inspired the poem, The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe. A poem which in turn inspired the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti to draw an intense, slightly creepy illustration.

Ravens also prompted the German sculptor, Ludwig Vordermayer to create the above dramatic ceramic piece for the Heubach factory in Koppelsdorf sometime around 1908. This hard-paste porcelain raven can now be seen lurking on a top shelf within the ceramics display at the V&A Museum.

The amazing genus Corvus gives us a group of birds that the derogatory expression ‘bird brain’ does a gross injustice to. Evidence suggests that crows, rooks, jackdaws and ravens are top of the avian intelligence pecking order. These birds have been observed constructing tools, using bait and even possibly exhibiting self-recognition. As a child I remember being amazed by the size of the ravens at the Tower of London and being bewitched and entranced by the way they stared at me. But this morning I had to make do with a common, but clever crow on my neighbours television aerial.

Crow-not-Raven