- Botanical Riches Stories of Botanical Exploration
The Miegunyah Press/Melbourne University Publishing Ltd., Carlton Vic., 2007.
Quarto; hardcover, full cloth with gilt spine titling; 244pp., with many colour illustrations. Mild wear; slightly shaken and rolled; some light scraping to the board bottom edges. Dustwrapper a litt;le rubbed and edgeworn; a small surface tear to the front pane; now professionally protected by superior non-adhesive polypropylene film. Very good. "The stars of the book are all artists in the European tradition. But what stars they are. They loved structure, the veins of the leaf, the relation of the leaf to the stem, the arrangement of the seed in the pod, and everything to do with the composition of the flower. They loved the surfaces of fruit, with their characteristic blemishes. They loved laying out their information on the page, in a standard scientific manner but with great energy of composition. (That is why their books have so often been disbound and the illustrations framed.) And some of them liked devising sublime landscapes for a background, to give some sense of native habitat, while Johann Volckhammer, in a great book on fruit produced in Nuremberg in the early 18th century, had the idea of placing the fruit in the sky above aerial views of the great houses in Europe where they were being cultivated. So it is that we find a grapefruit (or grapefruit-ancestor), labelled Pompelmus, hovering over a baroque moated Schloss, looking like something devised by Magritte. Elsewhere, an airborne aubergine.The idiom of these illustrations changes as the techniques for reproduction change. Woodcuts come first, followed by steel engravings, both of them coloured by hand, so that what you are looking at is the work not just of artist and engraver but also of countless, nameless, highly skilled drudges, who brought the work to its exquisite finish. ...Precise technical description of a plant, coupled with a drawing, takes us a long way towards identification. The early botanical artists' work is by no means useless to us today. Often the scientific names have changed, but the flower itself jumps out at us from the page. We say: I've seen that, or I grow that. Perhaps it is familiar. But to many of these artists it was not familiar at all. It spoke of the great unknown, of uncharted creation. It seemed the latest word in the bizarre." - James Fenton
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