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

2018–2023, PhD Project, Funded by the NWO Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen, Project Number PGW.18.016

In seventeenth-century Europe, the flower book (an assemblage of flower watercolors) became a popular pictorial genre for amateur collectors/garden enthusiasts to commission to document their plant collections. Due to their beautiful images and the lack of text, flower books are mostly labeled as objects of affluence and pleasure with little to no scientific value in modern-day literature. This project rejects such a notion by considering two contributions integral to the early modern development of (botanical) science: a collector’s garden as a site of studying and an artist’s technical expertise to picture nature. Using the perspectives of both the collector and the artist, this project delves into the epistemic value of the botanical watercolors in seventeenth-century flower books in regions of present-day Germany and the Low Countries.

This object-based research inquires into three aspects: 1) The practice of collecting nature on paper. 2) The material significance of watercolor. 3) The position of flower books in the visual culture of botanical imagery. It examines how, and in what ways, flower books present a unique perspective among the plethora of images that visualize plant and nature collections. It questions how the early modern color technology and an artist’s skills in manipulating the watercolor material and techniques affected the depiction of nature. It investigates how flower books reflected the botanical and practical knowledge of collecting and gardening brought together by a collector in the garden. By using flower books as a departing point, this project responds to the fundamental and recurring questioning into the theme of art and knowledge.

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