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Dr Heather Dalton
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Ryan Sheales
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A presence of an Australasian parrot in an Italian Renaissance painting is forcing historians to rethink their understanding of 15th century trading networks.

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, a species native to Australia and eastern Indonesia, is clearly visible in the 1496 painting, Madonna della Vittoria.

But it's unclear how the artist knew of the exotic animal's existence, as its habitat was considered beyond Europe’s trading reach at the time.

One Melbourne historian is now asking 'how did the Cockatoo get in the painting?'.

An analysis by Dr Heather Dalton, from the University of Melbourne's School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, will appear in the academic journal Renaissance Studies.

"Cockatoos are gregarious, transportable and have long lifespans," according to Dr Dalton. "One could have survive the sea journey back to Europe, especially if it had started the trip as an egg or fledgling"

"It's feasible that a sketch of the Cockatoo could have been carried back, but the bird's lifelike pose suggests the artist did have access to a live specimen."

Although ornithologists have identified the Cockatoo its significance has not been previously explored.

Dr Dalton said the bird's presence has raised many questions

"The presence of a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo in a European painting of 1496 suggests that there were complex and far-ranging South-East Asian trading networks in our region prior to the arrival of Europeans.