C17 and C18 Books of Natural History Watercolours – Maria Sibylla Merian

We are delighted that we have been able to reschedule art historian and curator Henrietta McBurney’s two talks from Jan 2022 and thrilled that she has added another two. These talks discuss several gardens created during the seventeenth century, and the first decade of the eighteenth century, which were recorded in watercolour in books of fruits and flowers (florilegia). In each of these books, insects and occasionally animals are shown in different ways, together with the fruits and flowers. In a fourth group of drawings insects are given as prominent a role as the botanical specimens themselves.
The compiler of the earliest of these spectacular albums, the so-called ‘Tradescant’s Orchard’, is unknown; the manuscript dates from the second and third decades of the seventeenth century and is one of the treasures of the Bodleian Library. A decade or so later the gardener, horticulturist and gentleman artist, Alexander Marshal, began his florilegium, continuing to add to it until his death in 1682. Now housed in the Royal Library at Windsor, this contains portraits of flowers made from a number of gardens in and around London. During the first decade of the eighteenth century the first Duchess of Beaufort commissioned two volumes of watercolours on vellum recording the exotic plants she was growing in her stoves (hothouses) at Badminton House. This florilegium is still housed in the library at Badminton House. Another pioneering Plantswoman and collector, Maria Sibylla Merian, recorded in her own watercolours the exotic plants and insects she saw on her travels to the Dutch colony of Suriname during the last two years of the seventeenth century. These dramatic images, published in her Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium , were to influence the compilers of the Duchess of Beaufort’s florilegium.
Each of the four talks will be devoted to one of these remarkable groups of watercolours and their compilers. The talks will take place by zoom on Monday evenings at 6.00 pm (London time).
This ticket is for this individual session and costs £5 , and you may purchase tickets for the other individual sessions via the links below, or you may purchase a ticket for the entire series at a cost of £16 via the link here. [Gardens Trust members may use their promo code for an additional 10% discount.]
Due to an Apple decision to charge a 30% fee for paid online events unfortunately you may no longer be able to purchase this ticket from the Eventbrite iOS app. Please use a web browser on desktop or mobile to purchase or follow the link here.
Attendees will be sent a Zoom link 2 days prior to the start of the talk, and a link to the recorded session (available for 1 week) will be sent shortly afterwards.
Week 1. 6 February. A Seventeenth-Century Flower Book – The Florilegium of Alexander Marshal: Part of a series of 4 online lectures, £5 each or £16 for all 4.
Week 2. 13 February. A Seventeenth-Century Fruit Book – ‘Tradescant’s Orchard’: Part of a series of 4 online lectures, £5 each or £16 for all 4.
Week 3. 20 February. Maria Sibylla Merian – Pioneer of Natural History Illustration: Part of a series of 4 online lectures, £5 each or £16 for all 4.
Week 4. 27 February. An Early Eighteenth-Century Flower Book – the Duchess of Beaufort’s Florilegium: Part of a series of 4 online lectures, £5 each or £16 for all 4.
Week 3. 20 February. Maria Sibylla Merian: Pioneer of Natural History Illustration
Maria Sibylla Merian (1614-1717) stands alone as the only female naturalist-artist and explorer of late seventeenth, early eighteenth-century Europe. Trained as an artist in Germany in the workshop of her stepfather, Jacob Merrell, Merian studied insects and reared silkworms as a child. Fascinated by the exotic insects she saw in the cabinets of collectors in Holland where she later lived, she made a pioneering visit to the Dutch colony of Suriname between 1699 and 1701 together with her daughter, Dorothea. There for two years she studied tropical insect life on its native plants, making sketches and preserving specimens. On her return to Holland, she spent five years working on a magnificent publication on the metamorphosis of insects, her Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (1705).
Merian’s pioneering travels and work, and the dramatic illustrations she made of insects on their host plants, provided an example to many contemporary and later naturalists and plant lovers, including the first Duchess of Beaufort, whose florilegium will form the last talk of this series.
Image: Royal Collection Trust/ © His Majesty King Charles III 2022, RCIN Branch of Seville Orange with Rothschildia moth 921209
Henrietta McBurney MVO, FLS, FSA, is an art curator and art historian. She worked as curator in the Print Room of the Royal Library, Windsor, for nearly 20 years. Subsequently she was keeper of fine and decorative art at Eton College, and curator of collections at the Garrick Club and Newnham College, Cambridge; she has since worked free-lance as a curator for Cambridge colleges. She has a particular interest in the intersection of art and science and has recently published Illuminating Natural History. The Art and Science of Mark Catesby (Paul Mellon Centre/Yale, June 2021). Other publications include studies on the 17th-century Florilegium of Alexander Marshal and Birds, Other Animals and Natural Curiosities , the natural history drawings for Cassiano dal Pozzo’s Paper Museum.

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