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Botany and the Artist

Examining how artists have used botanical illustrations throughout the centuries

Posted 07.21.14 by Debby Viles

Copy, copy simply, whole-heartedly, abjectly that which you have before your eyes; art is never so perfect as when it resembles nature so closely that it might be mistaken for nature herself. - Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres 

Have you ever been astounded by the scientific, botanical illustrations of Albrecht Dürer, Joseph Wolf, Moses Harris, John Woodhouse Audubon, or Maria Sibylla Merian? The dedication, talent, and life's work of these artists and others is the focus of this exhibition.

The earliest botanical art is largely thought to have originated in 15th century B.C. Egypt, supported by the finding of a stone frieze in Thutmose III's tomb that accurately depicts 275 Syrian plants. Botanical illustration was further developed in first century Greece mainly for precise identification of plants.

The American Society of Botanical Artists says "The Codex, considered the first herbal, combined drawings by a Greek physician, Cretava ... with the text of an ancient Greek medical manuscript by Dioscorides. It became a major reference book throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance."

The century spanning from 1750 to 1850 was considered the Golden Age of Botanical Art, but by the 19th century non-representational art was dominating the world and botanical illustration was fading from the public's view.

Despite the shift to non-objective art, artists continue to be inspired by botanical art today. Have a look at the different artists on display that use botany as their subject matter.

More information can be found on the American Society of Botanical Artists' website.

July 21 - August 15, 2014
Curated by Debby Viles

Circulation policy for books on exhibit:
Circulating books on display in the museum cases are available for check out at any time. Please see a staff member at the circulation desk to request a book from the cases. Titles, when available, may be checked out at any time from the MRC. For books on display from the Special Collections (Cage), please see a reference librarian.

Image information:
This page:  Melocactus from Louis XIV's Botanical Engravings by Alain Renaux, NE 647.2 .R46 2008 Quarto
Thumbnail: Helianthus annuus from Hortus Eystettensis, the Bishop's Garden and Besler's Magnificent Book, QK 41 .B315 1994 Folio



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