The armadillo: Spain creates a curious horse to belittle America

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After seeing it for the first time in the Americas, sixteenth-century Spain sparked an armadillo craze across Europe. People bought household objects that contained an armadillo image and its image was produced on maps, in manuscripts and printed books. Elites collected carapaces in curio cabinets and then as display items in the first museums. Armadillo descriptions subsequently inspired the proto field of animal taxonomy. This paper explains why the armadillo was the premier European curiosity animal. Its features reminded people of a war animal—the horse—, and war technology—armour. The sixteenth-century Spanish natural historians Nicolás Monardes, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and Martín Fernández de Enciso were the primary sources for this European fascination with the armadillo since they considered the armadillo a little armoured horse. My article also shows that the curiosity cult of the armadillo links to the discourse of race. In contradistinction to the prestige value of European armour and horse varieties, the emblem of the armadillo as little American horse served to belittle fauna and people from the New World.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-52
Number of pages26
JournalBulletin of Spanish Visual Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017


  • America
  • Armadillo
  • Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478-1557)
  • Horse
  • King Philip II (1527-1598)
  • Martín Fernández de Enciso (1470-1528)
  • Nicolás Monardes (1493-1588)
  • Raza (race and breed)
  • Zoological curiosity


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