*This announcement was originally published by Utrecht University
Picture books filled with flowers, more than meets the eye
On 15 December, Jessie Wei-Hsuan Chen will defend her PhD dissertation ‘Everlasting Flowers Between the Pages: Forms of Knowledge and the Making of Seventeenth-Century Florilegia’. Chen analyses florilegium, an early modern genre of expensive images that visually documented the floral rarities and curiosities. Aside from having them as a status symbol, what was the purpose of producing luscious books with mostly (coloured) pictures of flowers?
Anemones in the Hortus Floridus (1614) by Crispijn van de Passe II. Image via Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt.
Immortalising image and knowledge
Tulips, narcissi, sunflowers, and many more kinds of colourful flowers are common throughout Europe today. In the seventeenth century, however, they were rarities and curiosities to be cultivated and collected in gardens.
From the gardeners who grew and cultivated the flowers that are the modelled subjects for florilegia; to the compilers who gathered and presented the visual and textual information about rare and curious flowers; to the image makers who drafted and/or coloured the images of these floral rarities and curiosities – several kinds of makers contributed their knowledge and expertise to produce living specimens and immortalise rare and curious flowers on papers and parchments.
In her research, Chen focusses on these makers of early modern florilegia. To better understand what kinds of knowledge and expertise makers of florilegia had, Chen engages with hands-on and performative methods. By remaking selected florilegium pages and reworking historical horticultural techniques, this research unpacks how different forms of practices and practical knowledge came together to create everlasting flowers between the pages.
A double meaning
Seventeenth-century florilegia as objects of knowledge had a double meaning. On the one hand, they transferred and communicated different kinds of knowledge, from plant studies to gardening techniques, through the images and text on their pages. On the other hand, they embodied the many forms of knowledge that worked behind the scenes in order to produce the images and text on the pages. The seemingly simple tasks and activities performed by the makers were important in producing flower books as objects of knowledge.