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8 Posts tagged with the botanical_illustration tag
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Another year and another new theme and chance for the Library & Archives to show off and celebrate our wonderful artwork collections! Throughout the centuries women have made significant contributions to natural history art - all of whom shared a fascination and enthusiasm for the natural world. Drawn for a variety of reasons and using a rich mix of artistic techniques, the new theme of Women Artists presents another captivating cross-section of the artwork collections at the Natural History Museum.

 

Over the next 16 months, the specially designated cabinets in the Images of Nature Gallery will showcase the artworks of some of the best women natural history artists spanning the last four centuries. The work of over 60 different women artists, many on public display for the first time, will feature illustrations ranging from the delightful Tawny owls by Sarah Stone (ca. 1760-1844) through to the colourful Hawaiian fishes of E. Gertrude Norrie (active 1900s) and contemporary botanical artists such as Norma Gregory and Olga Makrushenko.

 

 

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The new theme also sees the publication of the fourth book in the Images of Nature series. Titled Women Artists, it features the artwork from over 100 women artists in the Library & Archives collections.

 

The exhibition opens on Saturday 8th March which also happens to be International Womens Day - a day which is celebrated in many different ways to recognise the achievements of women but also to raise awareness of the many social, economic, political situations worldwide affecting women.

 

Public access to the Gallery is free.

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As a pioneer in the field of depicting symbiotic relationships, Maria Sibylla Merian is credited with inspiring such key entomological texts as De Nederlandsche Insecten (Sepp & Sepp, 1762) & British Entomology (Curtis, 1823-1840). Even today, her work is valued not just for its aesthetic appeal but also for the accuracy of its scientific content.

 

Born in Frankfurt am Main in 1647, Maria was the daughter of a Matthaeus Merian the Elder, a very well-known etcher, and Johanna Catharina Heim. After Matthaeus died in 1650, Johanna remarried. As a pupil of Georg Flegel (1566-1638), and a celebrated botanical artist in his own right, Maria’s stepfather Jacob Marrell (1614-1681) was to play a key part in the encouragement and development of Maria’s artistic talent. By the age of 11, Maria had learnt the art of copper engraving from her stepfather; by the age of 13 she was keeping a journal of her efforts rearing silkworms, including notes on metamorphosis. Both interests went on to shape her life.

 

Married at 18 years of age to the artist Johan Andreas Graff (1637-1701), Maria gave birth to her eldest daughter (Johanna Helena) in Frankfurt Am Main in 1668. After relocating in 1670 to Nuremburg, the couples’ second daughter (Dorothea Maria) was born in 1678.

 

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Before, between, and after the birth of her daughters Maria continued developing her artistic talents. Using her own preparations of paints and dyes on vellum, paper, and linen, Maria produced a number of still life works but also shared her knowledge by teaching local girls flower painting and embroidery. Indeed, Maria’s first published work Neues Blumenbuch (1675-1680) was issued in parts intended as a pattern book for such pursuits.

 

In 1679, the first part of Maria’s Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumen-nahrung was published. The work focused on insect metamorphosis, drawn from first-hand observations of life cycles and food plants, rather than drawings of dried specimens (as was usual at the time). Jan Goedaert (1617–1668) was known as a painter of insects (including their life cycle); Botanical artists such as Georg Flegel and Balthasar ven der Ast had included insects in their paintings. However, linking insects to the specific plants they lived and fed on was quite a new approach.

 

Referred to by Maria as her “caterpillar books”, Der Raupen also served to demonstrate Maria’s refinement of making counterproofs, or transfer prints. Most illustrations produced via the engraving process are a mirror image of the original illustration – Maria added an extra step to the process, pressing a fresh sheet of paper against the still-wet print from a copperplate. This removed any physical impression of the copperplate from the finished product, instead leaving an outline for the final painting. Radically for an author of the time, Merian often coloured the engravings herself. 

 

A major change in Maria’s life came in 1681, with the death of her stepfather Jacob Marrell.  Returning to her mother’s home in Frankfurt Am Main, Maria went on to publish a second part of Der Raupen in 1683, which was issued with an additional 50 plates and accompanying text.

 

Maria’s life took another unexpected turn in 1685, when she entered the religious Labadist commune in Wieuwerd, Friesland, of which her brother Caspar was already a member. Her mother and daughters joined her in the move; her husband did not. Hosted in Castle Waltha, tropical insects and plants in the commune’s natural history collections caught Maria’s interest. Maria and her daughters moved to Amsterdam in 1691 after the deaths of her brother and mother (1686 and 1690 respectively). In their new home, all three became well known as natural history painters.

 

In 1699, Maria took the life-changing decision to travel to Surinam. Funded by selling off her artwork and natural history collections, Maria was accompanied by her daughter Dorothea rather than a male companion. Although Surinam was a Dutch territory at the time, for a woman to travel unescorted in this way was quite controversial. Maria made the concession of drafting her will, but proceeded with her journey nonetheless.

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2 months of sailing later, Maria and Dorothea arrived in Surinam. Despite the ridicule of local Dutch sugar planters, the two women collected, reared, and painted the insects and plants of urban and jungle areas. After a serious illness (perhaps Yellow Fever), Maria returned to Amsterdam in 1701 with an extensive collection of plants, insects, and artwork. All three formed the basis of her highly acclaimed work Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, first published in Amsterdam in 1705. The publication in Latin and Dutch was funded in part by Maria’s commissioned art and engraving work.

 

Many editions were coloured by Maria’s equally talented daughters, but although Metamorphosis used Maria’s original watercolours for all the illustrations, only three of the engravings made were her own. Many of the insects and plants depicted in the work were new or little known to scientists, with plants such as pineapples, prickly custard-apples, frangipani, pomegranates, bananas, watermelons, guavas, and cashews all making an appearance. Plants depicted were both wild and cultured, due to having been chosen for their relationship with the insects they hosted.

 

A good indicator of the esteem in which Maria’s work was held might be considered the 1711 purchase by James Petiver of some of her artwork, on behalf of Sir Hans Sloane, and the 1717 purchase of her original drawings by Czar Peter the Great. Later, although not impressed with the cost of her works, Carl Linnaeus still cited her illustrations for several plant species and over 100 animal species. Since that time, At least 6 plants, 9 butterflies, 2 bugs, 1 spider, and 1 lizard have named in Maria’s honour.

 

Unfortunately Maria suffered a stroke in 1715, and was unable to continue her work. In 1717, at the age of 70, she died in Amsterdam.

 

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Shortly after Maria’s death, a third volume of Der Raupen was published by her daughter Dorothea; this was followed in 1719 by the second edition of Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. The second edition of Metamorphosis was again published only in Latin and Dutch, but included 12 additional plates – 10 by Maria, 2 after the collections of Albert Seba. These plates provoked criticism by the scientific community due to some baffling inaccuracies – one plate suggested that American frogs metamorphosed into tadpoles, as opposed to European tadpoles growing into frogs! Criticisms of Maria’s work also stemmed from her emphasis on biology and observation rather than taxonomy. Although the Linnean system of binomial nomenclature that is used today wasn’t introduced until 1753, taxonomy and taxonomic names were still considered crucial to the scientific process.

 

In all, Metamorphosis appeared in 5 editions. The 3rd and 5th editions (The Hague, 1726 and Paris, 1771) appeared in Latin and French; the 4th edition (Amsterdam, 1730), was a translation in Dutch.

 

Although her interest was primarily in insects, Maria’s realistic and detailed paintings of the plants they live on have ensured her work is valuable is not just to art lovers, but also to scientific community.

 

 

Bibliography.

 

Harvey, J.H.V.                               

Maria Sibylla Merian: The Surinam album (commentary) (London: The Folio Society, 2006).

 

Magee, J.                                    

Art of Nature: Three centuries of natural history art from around the world (London: Natural History Museum, 2009).

 

Ogilvie, M. & Harvey, J.                 

The biographical dictionary of women in science: Volume 2, L-Z (New York & London: Routledge, 2000). Pp.884-885

 

Pieters, F.F.J.M. & Winthagen, D.  

Maria Sibylla Merian, naturalist and artist (1647-1717): a commemoration on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of her birth. Archives of natural history. (London: Society for the History of Natural History). Vol. 26, part 1 (February, 1999), pp.1-153

 

Stearn, W. T.                                

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) as a botanical artist. Taxon (Utrecht: International Bureau for Plant Taxonomy and Nomenclature). Vol. 31, part 3 (August 1982), pp. 529-534.

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Last week we welcomed Ana-Maria Costa, the Library & Archive's first Synthesys funded researcher. She is with us for three weeks.

 

Ana-Maria is here as part of her PhD with the University of Lisbon, entitled 'The Natural History in Art and the Art in Natural History 1770-1810'.

 

During her stay she will be using the Botanical and Zoological artwork collections from the Library and in particular those relating to:

 

Captain James Cook's two voyages

First Fleet

William Bartram

 

 

 

 

 

 

In particular the goal of her PhD is to compare and contrast the 'cultural' skills of Portuguese artists with those of other European artists during the period 1770-1810.

 

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When studying the collections, she is looking at a number of different levels:

 

Artistic - not only interested in the colours used, but form, line and composition. Also what the artist puts behind, whether the perspectives are correct and their use of light and shadow to create a 3D effect.

 

Scientific/taxonomic - has the species been identified and if so correctly.

 

 

Geographic - she is recording the geographical information of the specimen depicted in order to later plot these on a map.

 

Ana-Maria is in her third year of four and has already researched the art collections at the Libraries of the Natural History Museum and Botanical Gardens, Lisbon, National Museum, Lisbon and Botanical Gardens, Madrid.

 

By the end of her research here Ana-Maria is looking to have identified approximately 40 pieces of artwork to use for her PhD, in addition to those selected from the other institutions.

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Lisa Di Tommaso (Special Collections Librarian) showcased some of the Library's fantastic art collection, as part of the highly successful NHM Night Safari evening.

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/night-at-the-museum-priceless-treasures-at-the-natural-history-museum-after-hours-7762360.html

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"He that enlarges his curiosity after the works of nature, demonstrably multiplies the inlets to happiness"

This is the opening phrase of the preface to the third, 1799, edition of The Naturalist's and traveller's companion; by John Coakley Lettsom. M.D; where he defines the ultimate purpose of his book. A concise manual that has been somehow forgotten, it was a great achievement at it's time.

The first edition was published in London in 1772 by George Pearch and it seems to have sold out quickly as a second edition, corrected and enlarged followed in 1774, this time published by E & C Dilly also in London.

This is probably the first ever concise, modern, systematic and scientific manual on the preservation of natural history specimens and collections; giving advice not only on different aspects of capturing, finding, preserving, transporting and analysing plants, insects, fossils, animals and minerals but also on antiquities, religious rites, food, meteorology and even "precise directions for taking off impressions of cast from medals and coins".

The manual is also an incredibly practical, beautifully presented, well informed and advanced book that could be considered the founding publication for modern natural history preservation science. His advice on preserving natural history collections from pest attack anticipates by 200 years the groundbreaking Integrated Pest Management programs introduced in the last 20 years in Museums and Historic Houses: http://www.pestodyssey.org/

It is uncertain if the manual was used by the great explorers of the period but given how popular it was at the time, it would be expected that copies of the book were carried on the many voyages of exploration that took place after its publication. It seems certain that Charles Darwin owned and used a copy although the great man was never known for being a good caretaker of his natural history collections.
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John Coakley Lettsom was born in 1744 in Tortola, Virgin Islands. A Quaker concerned with anti-slavery, he manumitted the slaves from his two inherited plantations there; angering his plantation onwers neighbours then gaining their respect by setting up the first medical practice in the islands (with some of his former slaves trained as medical assistants) as he had become a doctor in Leiden, south Holland, in 1769.

Lettsom worked and travelled tirelessly all his life; famous for his commitment to his patients and the medical profession, he founded the Medical Society of London in 1775, the oldest in Britain and possibly in the world. In doing so, he showed great bravery and intelligence; parallel to his display of lateral thinking demonstrated in The Naturalist's and traveller's companion; by joining together the four branches of the medical profession in one society where they could share knowledge and experience: http://www.medsoclondon.org/index.html
Amazingly, he still had time to cultivate a famous garden in his London home, arranged according to the Linnaean system of classification: http://lettsomgardens.org.uk/history.html

The Library at the Natural History Museum also holds the original drawings made by his friend James Sowerby of the plants in Lettsom's garden, as well as a copy of his 1799 famous work "The natural history of the tea-tree".

Chris Ledgard's BBC4 Radio program: "What's eating your collections?" aired last September began quoting paragraphs from the Travellers's companion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b013q311/Whats_Eating_the_Museum/

Bibliography:
The Golden Age of Quaker Botanists by Ann Nichols, Cumbria, 2006.

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A copy based on the Vienna Dioscorides - the earliest surviving illustrated herbal, held in the Austrian National Library, Vienna.

 

The earliest known herbals date back to early Greece and they have been in permanent use throughout the centuries into the medieval era and beyond. Herbals have predominately been used as texts to assist physicians and botanists in the use and application of remedial ointments and medicines and attempt to describe the medicinal properties of plants and their appearance.

 

 

Pedanius Dioscorides (circa 40CE-90CE)

 

Pedanius Dioscorides was born in Anazarbos (modern day Turkey) and lived in the time of the Emperor Nero in the 1st  Century CE. He was a military man and physician. Painstakingly compiling  information relating to 600 plants, 35 animal products and 90 minerals, he developed his medical treatise which was to become a cornerstone of European botany for two millennia.

 

 

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Materia Medica

 

One bound manuscript  volume of 418 hand-painted watercolour illustrations of Pedanius Dioscorides' Materia  Medica. This volume belonged to Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), President  of the Royal Society, and is now housed in the NHM Library. This item is a copy of the great Vienna Dioscorides – an elaborately illustrated herbal designed as a gift to the Byzantine Princess Juliana Anicia in  the 6th Century CE, and sometimes known as the Juliana Anicia Codex. The Juliana Anicia Codex was based on the original ancient Greek text.

 

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The Banks copy’s watermark dates the papers at 1458-1477. The drawings are arranged as in the Vienna Codex, in alphabetical order and are copies of the Vienna Dioscorides, which is vastly more ornate and luxuriously designed. Nevertheless, the Banks copy is an extremely important and rare volume of intrinsic value. The plant drawings are annotated with their Greek name at the top and in a later hand with their Latin name at the bottom of the page.

 

Bound at the back of the book are a number of sketches of animals and unfinished sketches of people. One unfinished sketch depicts the Princess Juliana Anicia.

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Another sketch denotes seven men – renowned medical men of the time, seated in the Hellenistic tradition of philosophers in discussion. The men depicted are (clockwise); Galen, Dioscorides, Nicander, Rufus, Andreas, Apollonius and Crateuas.

 

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There are a number of sketches of the mandrake root - being held up by a woman as a small grey figure. The mandrake plant had mystical significance for the ancient Greeks. Folklore describes how once dug up the mandrake root releases a terrible cry which will kill those who listen. However the mandrake also possesses mythical powers. One legend tells how a starved dog is tied to the partially dug up root and then when fully dug the shriek will kill the dog but spare the human, therefore leaving the human to capture the magical qualities of the plant.

 

These illustrations are a useful reminder of the transition from superstition and folklore to a more reasoned view of the world and are also symbolic of the development of a growing proto-scientific intelligence in relation to the natural world.

 

The library also holds other wonderful versions and editions of the Materia Medica.

 

References:

 

Collins, M. (2000) Medieval herbals: The illustrative traditions, London: The British Library and University of Toronto Press.

Osbaldeston, T. A.  and Wood, R. P.A. (2000) Dioscorides, de materia medica : a new indexed version in modern English, Johannesberg: Ibidis Press.

 

By Natalie Bevan - Assistant Librarian


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All change!

Posted by Andrea Hart Apr 12, 2011

As the new Images of Nature, art gallery has been open for 3 months now, it was time to install the second rotation of drawings from our Reeves collection of Chinese botanical and zoological drawings. It all went very smoothly and all of the illustrations and their description panels were in place with some time to spare before the Museum opened its doors to the Easter holiday crowds.

 

Below is a small selection of the new drawings that are now on display and are freely available to view. We hope you like them!

 

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Top left : Purple heron Ardea purpurea

Top right : Traveller's palm Ravenala madagascariensis

Bottom left : Camellia Camellia japonica

Bottom right : Slow loris Nycticebus coucang

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Linnaeus, sex and botany

 

Whilst the study of plants would appear a harmless scientific pursuit, during the late 18th century much controversy was caused due to the allusion to its sexual nature and the theory that plants, like animals, reproduced sexually. Although the sexual system of classification put forward by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1768) in his 1735 publication Systema Naturae was not the first to propose a sexual hypothesis in plants, he was the first to establish a complete system of classification on it.

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Above : The original drawing by Georg Ehret (1708-1780) to illustrate Linnaeus' sexual system. It was first published in Linnaeus' Genera Plantarum, first edition, 1737.

 

Linnaeus' theory was based upon counting the numbers of male and femlae reproductive organs inside the flowers. Descriptions such as "the calyx is the bride chamber in which the stamina and pistilla solemnize their nuptials" and analogies between humans and plants in statements such as "the filaments the spermatic vessels" and "the anthers the testes" served to highlight the reproductive floral parts of the plants.

 

The work was met with some resistance and by some deemed unnatural, in particular the German botanist Johann Georg Siegesbeck (1686-1755) who claimed it to be "repugnant and immoral". Smellie, in his chapter on The sexes of plants in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (p.653, 1771) wrote that "a man would not naturally expect to meet with disgusting strokes of obscenity in a system of botany" and that "men or philosophers can smile at the nonsense and absurdity of such obscene gibberish ; but it is easy to guess what effects it may have upon the young and thoughtless".

 

For others however such as Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), it inspired poetry :

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This verse from the Love of Plants (Darwin, 1790) is the description of tumeric where "one male and one female inhabit this flower ; but there are besides four imperfect males, or filaments without anthers upon them, called by Linnaeus eunuchs".

 

Although many were shocked by the comparison with human sexuality, it was a very practical system of classifying plants and became accepted by renowned botanists including Nikolaus von Jacquin (1727-1817).

 

Linnaeus, Ehret and the frontispiece

 

The original illustration used to demonstrate Linnaeus' sexual system and published in the first edition of his Genera Plantarum in 1737 was drawn by Georg Ehret (1708-1770). Born in Heidelberg, Germany, Ehret's unique style and clarity of plant illustration was sought by specialists for the purposes of illustrating taxonomy and classification. This made him a perfect choice for Linnaeus as the scientific accuracy and precision of botanical illustrations are paramount in order to be able to distinguish the plants from other species and to enable correct identification. It also helped that Ehret considered himself and Linnaeus to be "the best of friends" and that when Linnaeus first showed him the new method of examining the stamens he understood it easily enough to produce the "tabella" (Ehret, 1894-5).

 

The drawing, completed by Ehret in 1736, shows the division of the vegetable world by Linnaeus into 24 classes. The 24th class were the cryptogams (plants without flowers) and in keeping with the male/female analogy were referred to by Linnaeus as "Clandestine marriage, Cryptogamia".

 

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Above : The 24th class (the Cryptogams) indicated by the letter "Z" along with Ehret's name and the date of the drawing.

nb. The letters J and Y were omitted from this alphabetical arrangement to represent Linnaeus' 24 classes.

 

Whilst the brilliance of the colour remains after almost 300 years, the illustration is also interesting as on the verso there is the pencil outline of the drawing and when held up to the light is the exact image of the watercolour image on the front. The illustration therefore has been conserved and framed in such a way so it possible to see through the paper on both sides.

 

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Above left : the completed watercolour image

Above right : the reverse image in graphite

 

 

References and further reading

 

Darwin, E. (1790-91) The botanic garden; a poem, in two parts : Part 1. Containing the economy of vegetation ; Part 2. The loves of the plants, with philosophical notes. J. Johnson : London. 2 vols.

 

Ehret, G. D. (1894-95) A memoir of Georg Dionysius Ehret. [Written by himself, and translated, with notes by E. S. Barton]. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. 1894-95. pp.41-58

 

Fara, P. (2003) Sex, botany and empire : the story of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks. Icon Books : Cambridge. 168 pp.

 

Jarvis, C. (2007) Order out of chaos : Linnaean plant names and their types. Linnean Society of London and Natural History Museum : London. 1016 pp.

 

Smellie, W. (1768-1771) Encyclopaedia Britannica : or, a dictionary of arts and sciences compiled upon a new plan &c. A. Bell and C. MacFarquhar : Edinburgh. 3 vols.

 

Stern, W. T. (2004) Botanical Latin. David & Charles : Devon. 546 pp.