January 16 - March 2, 2007
Papilio Passiflorae from James Edward Smith's The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia (London, printed by T. Bensley, for J. Edwards, 1797).
Feeding Upon the Everlasting: The Art of Butterfly and Moth Illustration
This exhibit invites the viewer to explore and ponder the variety and vibrant beauty of historical illustrated works depicting butterflies and moths from the Rare Books Collection at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
As medieval tradition gradually gave way to the Renaissance ideal of the union of art and science, scientists and scholars began to use illustration to support and enhance their empirical study of nature. Professional artists and engravers of the 17th and early 18th centuries took on the painstaking task of rendering insects and their host or surrounding flora in ways that stimulated the interest of the scientific investigator and the naturalist. The art of illustrating natural objects required intense observation of detail, exacting precision, and total objectivity; artists’ renderings were to be void of personal style, aesthetic, or psychological interpretation.
Numerous richly illustrated works depicting known and newly discovered species of Lepidoptera were published during the mid-1700s to early 1800s, considered to be a golden age of entomological illustration. Improvements in printing technology and engraving techniques allowed for enhanced precision of artists' representations. These sumptuous works were often printed in limited editions with hand-colored plates, and published with subsidies from wealthy sponsors.
The new literature inspired enthusiasm and avid interest among members of the growing British middle class, who eagerly sought to add insect books to their personal libraries. Artisans in fashion and the decorative arts were inspired by the exquisite illustrations, and silks printed with butterfly designs, parlor display specimens, and insect jewelry were offered for sale in shops throughout Europe.
Dodd Research Center Gallery
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