S B A DLDC Essay Assignment 10

S B A     Distance Learning Diploma Course  -  Assignment  10

Renata Barilli     Sirmione, 2oth december 2006

Explain the attraction which botanical painting holds for you. Name a well known botanical artist from the past and one piece of work which you particularly admire. Compare this with work by a contemporary botanical artist who you equally admire. Would you say it is easier or more difficult for a botanical painter to forge a career today and give your reasons. Name your source and reference material.

Powerful inventions of our century like photography, cinematography,
television and web, have made every kind of image enjoyable, gratifying and fulfilling the common desire of sight sense. Obviously, these methods make it easier to capture images and so this has pushed to look for unusual images that are able to impress the onlooker, his curiosity. Most of the produced items may be interesting, but to my mind, a lot of them are cold and without emotion. I have seen many “artistic” images that to my mind are cold  and without soul.
This led me to consider my surroundings , to look for beauty , harmony and sense. Where to find it? May be in the countryside, where I used to spend my summer holidays, as a child from the city, observing life in fields and orchards. What abundance of variety is offered  then to us!
Mankind tries to invent the impossible to astonish and often forgets to wonder at Creation and the natural world itself.
Sometimes it is said that it is all too easy to reproduce items that already exist and that to copy or reproduce images is not spurring.
I do not agree with this idea, because great ability is necessary to draw, to understand and to reproduce colours, but above all to get and to make the subject’s lot, special sensitive soul is needed.
I am interested in botanical painting as it involves scientific knowledge ,a sensitive soul and disposition.  I also prefer watercolour as  medium for plant portrayal and for all other works.
I started painting subjects from my terrace, from my small orchard and then, as I have realized the richness of peculiarities and variation that exists  in wild fields around Sirmione, where I live now, I started to study the scientific aspects, names as well  then history. I have practised my brain right side to be able to see in the proper way that an artist does, to have new eyes. Feeling the reality not as outline already fixed by traditional mind, but following the sensory capacities. I have been enriched by this work and I have found myself interacting with nature. Step by step, I started to get closer to botanical painting and the history of it.
The Italian  publication  “Gardenia” was publishing a series on the history of botanical painting, edited by Ivana Malabarba, started on April 2004 with the nr.240, ended on November 2006 with  the nr. 271. I used it as a guide to make deeper research through the public library and the web.
I would like to point out that I find the works of Pierre Joseph Redoutè particularly charming. He started to do botanical painting for himself in the botanical garden “Jardin du Roi” where he met Charles Louis L’Hèritier de Brutelle, the botanist. Redoutès professional career started with this meeting. His massive collection of work includes :“Stripes Novae” plant illustrations, “Plants Grasses”, the special production done while he was Queen Cabinet painter, “Jardins de la Malmaison” engraving,”Les Liliacees”, 500 watercolours of the highest calibre, “Les Roses et Plantes rares cultivèe a la Malmaison” famous for both scientific precision and stylistic language.
I appreciate his modern style of portraying the botanical subject: larger than the usual with some pieces on the boarder line, so that it comes out of the golden square like presenting itself at a window, overflowing with exuberant life. The arrangement is almost photographic: by putting the focus on a special point where the subject seems to be born . He does not worry about leaving out a piece of leaf or loosing a part of the plant and yet, looking at it, one does not feel a lack of something. He still manages to convey the whole image, even if it not actually all there to see. I really like his subtle nuances in colour and texture of the flower with the virtuosity of brilliance lights. From fineness and elegance of his drawn you know for and by whom it was painted .The parchments collection have a special interest for me because allow the comparison between different technical styles, of use and conventional habit, that belong to various artists from everywhere.
In the collection at the Natural History Museum you may find “Eucomis Comosa”, work that I admire for the dry brush details, the delicate lights, and the artistic style. As it is not signed, there are doubts as to whether it should be attributed to Redoutè as the gold  squaring is not typical in size and thickness of this painter. L’Hèritier published a plate identical to this one signed by Redoutè. The two subjects are symmetrical. This means that one had been traced from the other one and so they are both by Redoutè.
Experts  therefore attribute the painting to him and the size and  format to his teacher Van Spaedonck. Probably, it is a piece that he did when he was younger.
Redoutè is typical of many artists , whose work was commissioned by the nobility of the day. He was fortunate to be able to transform his passion into  something of cultural and material richness for everyone.
There were other artists that, for their own personal vocation of exploring, have expressed all their artistic capabilities and scientific knowledge, travelling and discovering unknown species.
I like  a lot of artists from the past, but my  favourite one  is Ferdinand Bauer who took part in many expeditions. His “Flora Grecae” was made during his travel in Greece and from the very difficult journey in Australia he produced 1770  flora plates. I admire  the adventurous spirit, the audacity and difficulties overcome.
This is why, above all, I do like Margaret Mee too.
In times where it seemed there was nothing new to be discovered, she succeeded in finding new specimen. She  used to travel in the Amazonian forest on her own and this is to be valued for difficulties and hardness of intent.
She was a very modern and liberated woman. She was able to portrait many subjects in both a strictly botanical style and also still life.
Her scientific plates are seen in the Botanical Art Collection at the Hunt Institute. The most interesting to me are some Bromeliaceae: “Vreisa guttata”,
Plate number 1368 and “Tillandsia stricta”, Plate number 1364 from the Catalog of Botanical Illustration, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution.
I like: the choice of hanging the plant up in the top left hand corner as you would find it in the forest. So that it gets obvious that it is an epiphyte subject. The use of gouache medium reproduces  the colour and the texture  exactly as it is in  the original subject. It is typical of her to draw specimen as they are found in nature. I love the “Scuticaria steelii” for everything: the grace, the colour and the placement on the plate.
Mee’s still life plates  are very interesting. Looking at them, your soul would feel the same surprise as if you intimately are looking closely at the plant, behind a curtain .
The contemporary Italian artist Margherita Leoni is much like Margeret Mee.
They have many things in common: to travelling  in the Brasilian forest, to portrait rare and endangered species, awards for the protection of environment and so on.
Leoni is still a very young artist and has only been painting for 10 years and great sucess is expected for her.
It is very interesting to compare their works as they painted the same subjects but with different medium: Mee used gouache and Leoni uses watercolour. For instance “Pseudobombax grandiflorum ” was done by both. The Mee one shines of intense colour: the plump bud and the branches suggest luxuriant forest feeding .The one done by Leoni  tell us of genteel and nudity of what is left after blooming .Therefore, this is due to the watercolour use, which does not seem to be dry at all, but diluted.
The two works explain the same subject , but in two different moments.
Nowadays, the work of artists like M. Mee and M. Leoni is very important
 in saving  the biodiversity in the world, before it gets to a desert.
Actually, Botanical Gardens are the first promoters of this survival, but it is known that images reaches everyone’s eyes, both botanical lovers and common people.
Photography has got a great power for divulging knowledge, but it cannot show particular structures or certain characters of botanical relevance, in the same plate, which  is normal in detailed botanical portraits.
Because a photo is the exact copy of the  real subject, it  is like the human eye that, without mind instructions, looks only in front and not at the entire.
Beside being scientific, botanical portraits are splendid pieces of fine art and they always suggest soul breath to spectators.
New artificial specimen such as OGM, made by Biology study, are on our future  and so it is requested to keep exact registration of the natural ones from the past. This is possible if they are shown by ethical botanical artists.
It seems to be difficult to forge a botanical artist career today, because of the photography, but I do not believe it. Botanical artists’ job is  too important for biodiversity survival, especially to joint scientific institution as universities, museums or botanical gardens.


 K. West, How to draw plants, Herbert BM, 2004
 B. Edwards, Disegnare con la parte destra del cervello, Longanesi, 1999
 L. Tongiorgi Tomasi, Introduzione all’Arte Botanica, Università degli Studi di Pisa
 A. Raynal Roques, I pittori di fiori. Le pergamene del Museo di Storia Naturale di Parigi, Biblioteque de l’Image, Paris, 1998
 G. G. Aymonin, L’erbario di Basilius Besler, Biblioteque de l’Image, Paris, 2002
 AA. VV., Arte Botanica, De Luca Editori d’arte, Roma, 2005
 L. Torgioni Tommasi, A. Tosi, Italian Botanical art today, Edifir, Firenze
 M. Mee, Margaret Mee’s Amazon Diaries of an Artist Explorer, Antique Collectors’ Club, Kew, 2004
 Ruth L.A. Stiff et al., The Flowering Amazon: Margaret Mee Paintings, Kew Publishing, 2004
 M. Stevens, The art of botanical painting, Harper Collins Publishers, 2004
 Gardenia, italian publication, Mondadori, Milano from April 2004 to November 2006)


 huntbot.andrew.cmu.edu/HIBD/Departments/Collections/Mee.shtml
 www.it.wikipedia.org
 www.oppenheimmereditions.com
 www.universitàdelledonne.it
 www.vmnh.si.edu
 www.margheritaleoni.com