The Golden Age of Botanical Art - Martyn Rix
The Golden Age of Botanical Art (Univ. of Chicago, $35), edited by Martyn Rix, features 250 rare plates drawn primarily from the collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The main delight of this book is its fascinating intertwining of art, botany, and the histories of exploration, colonization, and travel. You will no longer see botanical illustration as dutiful, static representation (if ever you did!) but will be amazed at each specimen’s role in the long saga of globalization, intrepid journeying, and the thrills of discovery. The volume begins in the 16th century, surveying English herbals, Islamic botany in Turkey, and the work of Leonardo da Vinci. It continues through the Victorian Age, with a strong focus on India, before proceeding to today’s state of the art. Along the way, side trips follow missionaries in China, the rise of horticultural journals in 18th-century South America, and Josephine Bonaparte’s surprising contributions to the field. This is a fascinating, insightful angle on the history of several centuries, and a beautiful volume that makes a passable substitute for an actual visit to Kew Gardens.