Monday, June 04, 2007

Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History

Interior, Lilac Iris
10" x 8", coloured pencils on HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The strapline for the exhibition "Amazing Rare Things" is The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery. The exhibition is simply amazing and very beautiful. It has a dedicated microsite where you can see works in more detail and also see a tour of the exhibition introduced by Richard Attenborough. The website provides for image zoom facilities for individual drawings which allows you to see a phenomenal level of detail in each drawing.

I'd very much recommend this exhibition and microsite to anybody interested in botanical art and/or drawing animals and particularly wildlife. Works included are by:

Leonardo da Vinci
The unifying theme of Leonardo’s researches was an urge to understand the phenomena of nature. This would allow the artist to create a true image of the world, and indeed some of Leonardo’s most beautiful drawings of plants and animals were studies for his paintings and sculptures. (Royal Collection: Amazing Rare Things website)
Check out the images he drew of cats, lions and a dragon!

The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo
Cassiano dal Pozzo (1583-1657) was secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the nephew of Pope Urban VIII, and he played an important role in the cultural life of Baroque Rome........... Cassiano did not produce the drawings himself; instead he commissioned artists to make meticulous studies of geological specimens, plants, fruit and vegetables, fungi, birds, fish and other animals, some of which were made with the newly-invented microscope. (Royal Collection: Amazing Rare Things website)
Alexander Marshal
Alexander Marshal (c.1620-1682) was one of a circle of gentleman gardeners, centred on London, for whom the cultivation of rare plants was essential to the study of the natural world...... Over a period of thirty years Marshal compiled a ‘florilegium’ (flower book) of 154 folios recording plants growing in English gardens. Of the numerous species depicted, many are exotic newcomers; others are native plants. Although Marshal was not a professional artist, his florilegium - the only English flower book to survive from the period - contains some of the most beautiful plant studies in botanical art (Royal Collection: Amazing Rare Things website)
Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was one of the greatest artist-naturalists of her time. at the age of fifty-two, Merian made an expedition to Surinam (Dutch Guiana) in South America. Her aim was to study the indigenous flora and fauna in their tropical habitat........
Most of Merian’s watercolours displayed here are de luxe versions (painted on vellum) of the plates of the Metamorphosis, together with some works produced independently of that publication. (Royal Collection: Amazing Rare Things website)

Mark Catesby
The English naturalist Mark Catesby (1682-1749) compiled the first comprehensive survey of the flora and fauna of south-eastern North America (then part of the British colonies)......
Believing that ‘artistic’ techniques of shading and perspective compromised objective truth, Catesby used instead what he termed ‘a Flat, tho’ exact manner’ to make a precise visual record of each creature and plant. (Royal Collection: Amazing Rare Things website)
The exhibition is currently on display at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh 2 March – 16 September 2007 and in 2008 will then move to The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London (14 March - 28 September 2008).

You can order and buy the exhibition catalogue from the Royal Collection online shop.

Note: The image at the top is of the interior landscape of a pale blue iris. One for the Georgia O'Keeffe project - but I think I need to try simplifying and making images more sculptural and abstract.



vivien said...

good luck with the exhibition :)

I always feel Leonardo was a dog person and not a cat person - his cats are far too solid and muscular, more like pug dogs than fluid cats! It's nice to know that an old master was rather bad at something!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the new leads, Katherine (and lovely iris!) I've been fascinated by Merian and Catesby for years, but always looking for new/old naturalist illustrators. (Have you seen John White's 1588 paintings and etchings of his exploration in America?)

ooooh, and glad to see you've made it easy to comment now! Thank you again!

Jana Bouc said...

You've definitely captured the delicate, almost transparent nature of this flower. Beautiful work...almost intoxicating to look at.

Anonymous said...

I love the iris a la O'Keefe (a favorite artist). It brought back wonderful childhood memories of peeping inside those domed petals (or are they sepals?). My mother always planted the purple colors, and I loved the contrast of the little yellow beards. I could look at this for days...

I also appreciated reading your summary of the natural science illustrators, I wasn't familiar with Alexander Marshal until now. I like the ways he mixes the flora and fauna!

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