Curated by Haley Rutledge, Research Fellow
Are you looking for a fun way to combine art and science? We’ve got you covered! This digital exhibition explores how art and science were intertwined throughout the 18th and 19th century. Activities are included that you can do from home using the BMA’s collection of bird and botanical prints as inspiration.
Illustrations of plants and animals have a vast history dating back to antiquity. These illustrations were used by scientists, physicians, and gardeners alike as scientific tools to describe biological specimens and their properties. The first known botanical and zoological prints appeared when modern printmaking was introduced in the 1400s. In 1735, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus introduced a new system of biological classification. The Linnaeus system, along with many advances in the printing process in the 18th century, caused this genre of printmaking to grow in popularity. This remained a trend until the new medium of photography largely replaced these prints beginning in the mid-19th century. The majority of prints in this exhibition hail from this “golden age” of botanical and zoological printmaking.
Fun Tip: All of the prints in this exhibition were originally published as part of a book. Following each section, we’ve included links to the full digital versions of each book.
Audubon Illustrates Alabama’s Birds
Spring is a great time to start bird watching. The prints Meadowlark and Green Heron are from the series Birds of America by John James Audubon, created between 1827 and 1838.
The print Pileated Woodpecker, also created by Audubon, comes from a small scale version of Birds of America, created between 1840 and 1844. The pileated woodpecker is another local Southeastern bird that can be spotted in many wooded areas.
Fun Tip: Check out Alabama Audubon’s Facebook page to join in on live “Backyard Birding” videos every week. Or sign up for one of their free online classes beginning the week of April 6! Visit their website or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!
The Birds of America, published 1840-1844, Volume 4, plate 257
John James Audubon (American, 1785-1851), printed and colored by Robert Havell, Jr. (American, 1793-1878), Meadowlark, 1832, etching with aquatint, watercolor (hand coloring), and engraving, Gift of Dr. William M. Murray, 1975.64
John James Audubon (American, 1785-1851), printed and colored by Robert Havell, Jr. (American, 1793-1878), Green Heron, 1836, etching with aquatint, watercolor (hand coloring), and engraving, Gift of Dr. William M. Murray, 1973.151
John James Audubon (American, 1785-1851), Pileated Woodpecker, printed and colored by John T. Bowen (American, 1801-1856), 1841-1842, lithograph with watercolor (hand coloring), Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Catherine H. Collins Collection, AFI.620.1998
Fine Art Florals in Your Backyard
Priscilla Susan Bury’s depictions of flowers, Selection of Hexandrian Plants Belonging to the Natural Order Amaryllidæ and Liliacæ, were created at the print workshop of Robert Havell, Jr. while he also worked on Audubon’s Birds of America.
Next time you go for a walk, grab your sketchpad and be inspired by the spring flowers around you. Don’t forget to stop and smell the lilies!
Priscilla Susan Bury (British, 1799-1872), printed and colored by Robert Havell, Jr. (American, 1793-1878), Griffinia Hyacinthina, 1831, etching with aquatint, watercolor (hand coloring) and engraving, Gift of Dr. Hughes Kennedy III, 1989.267
Delicate Details of Natural Beauty
Nature printing is one of the oldest forms of printing, dating back to ancient times.
Fun Tip: If you are new to nature printing, you can find easy tutorial videos and websites online.
Printed by Henry Bradbury (British, 1829-1860), Asplentium Ladiantum, published 1855, nature printed in green with watercolor (hand coloring) in brown and dark green, Gift of Dr. Hughes Kennedy III, 1989.280
A Fruitful Pursuit of Art and Science
These prints take a highly scientific approach to recording information. The first print, Wild Strawberries, records several variant types of strawberries and different stages in the development of a plant. The second print, Antholyza Aethiopica, analyses the different parts of the flower clearly piece by piece.
You can do this at home, too! Take the scientific approach and make drawings of plants around your home as they grow throughout the spring. What do they look like in the morning versus the evening? What about after a storm or after several days of sunshine?
Various Subjects of Natural History, plate IX
Designed by Batty Langley (British, 1696-1751), Engraved by Michael Vandergucht (Flemish, 1660-1725), Wild Strawberry, published 1729, engraving and watercolor (hand coloring), Gift of Dr. Hughes Kennedy III, 1989.288
Add a Little Landscape… Add a Little Poetry…
A popular way of depicting plant forms throughout the history of botanical illustration is to set the specimen against a blank background, but these two prints break away from that tradition. The illustrator of Der Schieß-Platz in Augsburg die Rosen-Au genant lays out the plants throughout the book in a typical scientific fashion. He then adds the city and gardens around his home in the backgrounds making the plants appear to be floating above.
Although it uses unconventional imagery, Temple of Flora is regarded as one of the best botanical series of the time. It sets plants in front of lush, mysterious backgrounds. The plant depicted in Maggot-bearing Stapelia is a succulent commonly known as a starfish flower. This plant emits a foul smell, which is evident in the print by the addition of the fly. Temple of Flora breaks from tradition again in the associated text by not only including typical plant descriptions but also adding poetry and philosophical ideas.
Take a tip from these artists and step out of the norm. Use different materials, compositions, imagery, or even poetry to create a dynamic work of art.
Fun tip: Check out our new BMA Create video on how to use natural materials to create a mobile!
Johann Christoph Volckhammer (German, 1662-1720), Der Schieß-Platz in Augsburg die Rosen-Au genant (The Firing Range in Augsburg, called the Rosen-Au), engraved by Dehne, F. P. Lindner, L. Glotch, et al., about 1708, engraving with watercolor (hand coloring), Gift of Dr. Hughes Kennedy III in honor of Douglas K. S. Hyland, 1989.299
Peter Charles Henderson (British, active 1799-died 1829), printed by Joseph Constantine Stadler (British, born Germany, active 1780-1822, published by Robert John Thorton (British, about 1768-1837), The Maggot-bearing Stapelia, from the Temple of Flora, 1801, aquatint, stipple and line engraving, and watercolor (hand coloring), Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Douglas Hyland, 1988.94.2