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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 54.
- Review Date: 2007-12-31
- Reviewer: Staff
Beginning with Leonardo da Vinci, this historical overview of scientific illustrators between the late 1400s and the mid-1700s includes beautiful, intricate specimens from the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Natural History Museum, among others. Filmmaker Attenborough provides an introductory survey of the artistic representation of plants and animals through human history; succeeding chapters focus on five figures—four artists and one collector—none of whom is well known in either scientific or art history circles. Cassiano dal Pozzo proves an eager and curious antiquarian, a church functionary in Rome who amassed a remarkable collection of illustrations featuring everything from ancient Roman artifacts, minerals and fossils to newly discovered plants and animals. Stunning work by Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby capture plants and animals in their natural state, including dispatches from the New World and fauna newly arrived from foreign lands. Merian proves most fascinating, working in a time (the late 15th century) when women seldom left their homes, let alone traveled unattended to South America to draw insects and plants in the jungles of Dutch Surinam. A true feast for anyone interested in natural history, this marvelous book makes the underappreciated artworks of a passionate, talented group widely accessible. Color illus. (Aug.)
Visualizing the Age of Discovery
The Age of Discovery, the 15th through the 18th centuries, gave rise to magnificent exploits and explorations of art, science and ideas. Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery is a rich testament to that heady period. In the book, renowned British naturalist and documentary-maker Sir David Attenborough teams with three august (if comparatively unknown) colleaguesSusan Owens, Martin Clayton and Rea Alexandratosto explore the artistic legacies of four gifted European artist-scientists and one passionate antiquarian living in that time, who devoted their lives and art to investigating the flora and fauna of the old, new and Far Eastern worlds.
Attenborough's introductory essay traces the origins of "picturing the natural world," setting the stage for the scientific and artistic enquiries of Leonardo da Vinci, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby, whose work is chronicled in five successive essays. Artworks are elegantly interspersed throughout the text and comprise a wonder of visual delights: full-color plates (enlivened by Attenborough's arcane, amusing commentary) and figures of plants, insects and animals ranging from da Vinci's anatomical studies of horses and bears to Merian's pioneering depictions of insects and plants in the South American Dutch colony of Surinam. Of particular note are the discussions of dal Pozzo's "Paper Museum," his encyclopedic collection of drawings and prints by a range of artists, and the account of Merian's journeysextraordinary undertakings for a 17th-century divorced woman in her fifties.
All artist plates in Amazing Rare Things are from the Royal Library collection at Windsor Castle; figures derive from the archives of the British Museum, the British Library and numerous other sources. A reading list is included for those who wish to know more about da Vinci, et al. In today's world, imperiled as it is with threats of global warming and loss of various species, this stunningly beautiful book is a masterful tributeand a wakeup call.
Former park ranger Alison Hood enjoys the amazing redwoods of Northern California.