Nature’s Imprint: Botanical Illustration between Northern Europe and the New World (1550-1750)

Nature’s Imprint: Botanical Illustration between Northern Europe and the New World (1550–1750)

Jaya Remond's research project studies the production of botanical illustrations depicting "exotic" plants in early modern Northern Europe (1550–1750), with a focus on France, the Low Countries, and their relationship to the Caribbean. It analyzes the evolutions in the pictorial descriptions of New World flora and questions the political stakes of such representations. Indeed, depicting plants in word and image as well as inventorizing species unknown (for the most part) until then in the West was a task that necessarily entailed the control and conquest of natural resources. In that sense, botany, and botanical illustrations in particular, as performed by Westerners in the Americas, was always at the service of a project of domination and domestication.

Examining drawings and engravings of plants, Jaya Remond seeks to investigate scientific imagery as a site of political authority and visual innovation and to explore the role of images in the indexation and circulation of knowledge. To this purpose, she focused on a large corpus of primary sources (including printed books, engravings, drawings, paintings as well archival written sources) produced by European botanists and artists, dedicated to the plants and flowers of Central and South America, from the mid-sixteenth century until the mid-eighteenth century. She intends to show how the flora of the Americas, as a new object of scrutiny, encouraged new modes of representation, which reflected specific viewing practices informed by first-hand observation of nature: as a result, botanical illustrations offered a stage for the development of innovative visual strategies.