Everlasting Flowers Between the Pages: Botanical Watercolors in the Seventeenth-Century Low Countries

2018–2022, PhD Project, Funded by the NWO Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen

The recent embrace of citizen science recognizes non-experts as important producers of knowledge. To understand the historical grounds of how these issues of data quality control and expertise were decided, this project delves into the epistemic value of seventeenth-century flower books. The flower book is an assemblage of flower watercolors, which amateur collectors commissioned as records to document their plants. Amateur collectors were among the most important figures to cultivate and study rare and exotic plants. Thus, while early modern treatises by physicians and botanists represent experts’ contributions to the advancement of botany, flower books offer a new window into the botanical visual expertise that was brought to the foreground by the collectors.

This project will explain how botanical watercolors in seventeenth-century flower books contributed to the generation of (natural historical) knowledge by amateur collectors in the early modern Low Countries. The three aspects of inquiry include: 1) The position of flower books in the visual culture of botanical imagery. 2) The practice of collecting nature on paper. 3) The material significance of watercolor. This interdisciplinary project participates in the current international discourse about how (botanical) art and imagery impacted scientific advancement in the early modern period. It brings further insight into how amateurs acted as producers of knowledge within the cultural phenomenon of collecting nature. By studying the material properties and qualities of watercolor, it also provides a new model to study watercolors as carefully thought-out and finished artworks instead of as preparatory sketches for oil painters.

 

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