January 14, 2015

Captain Cook's Voyage and Banks' Florilegium

Went to see "Captain Cook's Voyage and Banks' Florilegium" at Bunkamura the other day. In the late 1700s, Cook took a party, including naturalist Joseph Banks, on a voyage to Polynesia, New Holland (Australia), New Zealand, and Batavia (Jakarta, under the Dutch), primarily to observe the transit of Venus. Along the way, Banks and other naturalists recorded hundreds of plants. 

(Image courtesy of the University of Michigan Library.)

Andreas Cellarius' Celestial Chart from the late 17th century. It was used to guide Cook and co on the journey to observe Venus.

It was interesting to see just how many of the plants they recorded 250 years ago still exist today, in more or less the same form. There was an exhaustive amount of information on each plant, such as a note on sweet potatoes and how mere contact with the flowers could cause dysentery, and often death. (They grew amid filth in trade-ravaged Batavia.) 

(Image courtesy of this page.)

The plants were initially recorded in watercolor, after which copper line engravings were made. Black and white prints of the engravings were issued in the early 20th century, but the beautiful drawings that we respond to today weren't actually created until the 1980s! 

(Image courtesy of the National Museum of Australia.)

These flowers (called scaevola), recorded in Botany Bay in Australia, surprised me: I thought they came only in white and were native to Hawaii. For proof, a photo I took in Hawaii last summer:

Despite the softness of the drawings, there is a precision to the line engravings that make it look like the leaves in particular were painted with cellular-level precision. The exhibit continues until Sunday, March 1. I can imagine people dismissing this exhibit as just "pretty flowers", but there was certainly a lot more to it than it let on! 

No comments: