Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

Between 1777 and 1816, botanical expeditions crisscrossed the vast Spanish empire in an ambitious project to survey the flora of much of the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. While these voyages produced written texts and compiled collections of specimens, they dedicated an overwhelming proportion of their resources and energy to the creation of visual materials. European and American naturalists and artists collaborated to manufacture a staggering total of more than 12,000 botanical illustrations. Yet these images have remained largely overlooked—until now.

In this lavishly illustrated volume, Daniela Bleichmar gives this archive its due, finding in these botanical images a window into the worlds of Enlightenment science, visual culture, and empire. Through innovative interdisciplinary scholarship that bridges the histories of science, visual culture, and the Hispanic world, Bleichmar uses these images to trace two related histories: the little-known history of scientific expeditions in the Hispanic Enlightenment and the history of visual evidence in both science and administration in the early modern Spanish empire. As Bleichmar shows, in the Spanish empire visual epistemology operated not only in scientific contexts but also as part of an imperial apparatus that had a long-established tradition of deploying visual evidence for administrative purposes.

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About the author

Daniela Bleichmar is assistant professor in the Departments of Art History and History at the University of Southern California.

F23534 Spanish/ Fondo de Cultura Economica exp, 01/26/2022

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Oct 8, 2012
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9780226058559
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / History / General
History / Europe / Spain & Portugal
History / Latin America / General
Science / General
Science / History
Science / Life Sciences / Botany
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This content is DRM protected.
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Because of their spectacular, naturalistic pictures of plants and the human body, Leonhart Fuchs’s De historia stirpium and Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica are landmark publications in the history of the printed book. But as Picturing the Book of Nature makes clear, they do more than bear witness to the development of book publishing during the Renaissance and to the prominence attained by the fields of medical botany and anatomy in European medicine. Sachiko Kusukawa examines these texts, as well as Conrad Gessner’s unpublished Historia plantarum, and demonstrates how their illustrations were integral to the emergence of a new type of argument during this period—a visual argument for the scientific study of nature. To set the stage, Kusukawa begins with a survey of the technical, financial, artistic, and political conditions that governed the production of printed books during the Renaissance. It was during the first half of the sixteenth century that learned authors began using images in their research and writing, but because the technology was so new, there was a great deal of variety of thought—and often disagreement—about exactly what images could do: how they should be used, what degree of authority should be attributed to them, which graphic elements were bearers of that authority, and what sorts of truths images could and did encode. Kusukawa investigates the works of Fuchs, Gessner, and Vesalius in light of these debates, scrutinizing the scientists’ treatment of illustrations and tracing their motivation for including them in their works. What results is a fascinating and original study of the visual dimension of scientific knowledge in the sixteenth century.
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Histories of the early modern global culture of collecting have focused for the most part on European Wunderkammern, or "cabinets of curiosities." But the passion for acquiring unfamiliar items rippled across many lands. The court in Java marveled at, collected, and displayed myriad goods brought through its halls. African princes traded captured members of other African groups so they could get the newest kinds of cloth produced in Europe. Native Americans sought colored glass beads made in Europe, often trading them to other indigenous groups. Items changed hands and crossed cultural boundaries frequently, often gaining new and valuable meanings in the process. An object that might have seemed mundane in some cultures could become a target of veneration in another.

The fourteen essays in Collecting Across Cultures represent work by an international group of historians, art historians, and historians of science. Each author explores a specific aspect of the cross-cultural history of collecting and display from the dawn of the sixteenth century to the early decades of the nineteenth century. As the essays attest, an examination of early modern collecting in cross-cultural contexts sheds light on the creative and complicated ways in which objects in collections served to create knowledge—some factual, some fictional—about distant peoples in an increasingly transnational world.

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