Amazing Rare Things

Amazing Rare ThingsSunday Times review
(London) March 23, 2008 by

A commoner like me finds it difficult to imagine why the Royal Collection should possess these treasures. I understand the showy Fabergé eggs for the royal piano top, and the chunks of the Kohinoor in the royal jewellery box, but in what circumstances did our appalling monarchs ever display enough scientific acumen, or the necessary artistic interest, to gather up these gorgeous records of the first microscopic staring?It appears they entered the royal goodie box in various ways. The Leonardo drawings – 600 of them! – were probably acquired by the long-haired wastrel Charles II, trying to make up for the dispersal by Cromwell of Charles I’s magnificent cellar of Italian art. Say what you like about George III – and some say he went as nutty as Bertholletia excelsa, or the brazil nut – but by buying 2,500 drawings from the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo, more than 250 watercolours of early America by Mark Catesby and 95 paintings of South America by the mysterious Maria Sibylla Merian, he, more than anyone, introduced a spirit of scientific inquiry into the expensive business of amassing a royal collection. Then there was George IV, the podgy, drink-loving king of the cuckolds. By Excalibur’s might, the man’s been misunderstood! Not only did he build the wacky Brighton Pavilion, but, while still Prince of Wales, he took possession of 150 watercolours of plants, bugs and animals by Alexander Marshal, an unsung genius of horticultural investigation and this display’s finest discovery.

Leonardo da Vinci
Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657), patron of Poussin and Bernini … “Paper Museum”
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – )
Alexander Marshal (1620-1682)
Mark Catesby (1682-1749) The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands

Review of the Queen’s Gallery Exhibit
by Brian Sewell, Evening Standard 14.03.08
About Merian, he says:

Just as dal Pozzo was, in 1657, coming to the end of his life as an encyclopaedist, so, far away in the north, a precocious girl of 10, Maria Sibylla Merian, was about to begin hers. This stepdaughter of the Dutch flower painter Jacob Marell became the most scientific of all Dutch painters of plants, animals and insects, and an original researcher. In 1699, aged 52, she went for two years to Surinam (Dutch Guiana) to collect and preserve (in brandy) specimens and draw the flora, fauna and insects of that hot, humid and deadly territory. One of the results was her monumental book on the lifecycles of local insects, the first scientific treatise on the subject and the region.

The coloured plates are spectacular. If the term Baroque can be applied to mere illustration then we must use it of Merian’s, her pages often crowded with a multitude of studies united in compositions that seem almost to be records of particular events – a war between the spiders and the ants, a hummingbird a collateral victim, a doting parent frog watching her froglet slaughtered by a giant waterbug, a spectacled caiman with a coiling coral snake. Merian too may have been something of a monster in her private and religious lives, her husband discarded according to the custom of the extreme protestant sect to which she belonged, marriage to unregenerates immediately dissolved, but as an artist-scientist, true to both disciplines, she was intrepid and courageous; as a woman, she had no precursor, no equal in her day and certainly none since.
Wow…. Orion Magazine. Book reviewed by Kim Todd.

Amazing Rare Things shows artists, naturalists, and collectors recording nature at the brink of the scientific revolution. They are leaving behind a world that believed in dragons, only to be confronted by improbable toucans and three-toed sloths arriving on trade ships from the New World.


One response to “Amazing Rare Things

  1. Not a bad post for an example. Could you tell me were I could find a copy of Mark Catesby (1682-1749) The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. That is what drew me here.

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