Sunday, February 26, 2012

Floral Mania: “The new botanic garden”, by S.T. Edwards, 19th Century

Sydenham T. Edwards (1768-1819) was a natural history illustrator. When he was only a child –with 11 y.o.- he copied plates from “Flora Londinensis” – that he discovered in a public library- for his own enjoyment (Flora Londinensis is a book that described the flora found in the London region of the mid 18th century, if anybody know where the digitized codex is hosted please advise).
A certain Mr. Denman saw some of Edwards drawings work during those years. Funny thing: that Mr. Denman was a friend of William Curtis, the publisher of botanical works, and founder of the Curtis's Botanical Magazine. Obviously Denman told Mr. Curtis about the young talent and Curtis did a big effort to convince the family to be trained in both botany and botanical illustration. He did it.
Edwards’s illustrations turned out to be enormously popular during a period when British expeditions were made to previously unknown corners of the earth. These expeditions gripped the public imagination and the desire for new plants and illustrations.
Edwards produced plates at a prodigious rate: between 1787 and 1815 he produced over 1,700 watercolours for the Botanical Magazine, the New Botanic Garden 1807, the New Flora Britannica 1812, and the Botanical Register 1815-19.
Edwards was a Fellow of the Linnean Society.

For a high resolution, pdf version of this codex, contact me (facsimilium AT gmail DOT com).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

“Dance of death”, 15th Century

All humans are equal to the eyes of Death, even the Pope or the Emperor have to dance with her.
The oldest traces of these kind of books are found in Germany, but there is also a Spanish text for a similar dramatic performance dating back to the year 1360, "La Danza General de la Muerte". In Italy was known as "Trionfo della Morte" (treated by Dante and Petrarch).
This post has relation with the “Art of dying” or “Ars moriendi” post I published last December, 2011 (link here). In this case, the purpose is similar and explained in two different components: Teach the truth that all men must die and prepare for judgement.
The iconography of “Dance of death” is different to the “Art of dying”, and introduces the concept that all humans are equal to the eyes of Death in a different way, more related to life moments like a party with dancers (in the “Art of dying”, the person who’s going to die is always represented at bed). To emphasize the idea that all humans are equal to the eyes of Death, the first figure or character in the dance is a Bishop or even the Pope, Emperor or the King. The Death –represented as a group of skeletons or rotten corpses- hold his hands during the dancing, playing musical instruments and creating a “happy” procession, leaded by a preacher who explains its meaning.
There’s a good Wikipedia article about the “Dance of death” and its influences on painting, architecture, etc. (link here). I would like only to remark one of my favorites: “The triumph of Death” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder -this painting is located in the Museo del Prado, Madrid-.

Pilgrims or Pleasants will also dance with Death. The codex starts with Pope and Emperor and finishes with lowest class according to social medieval classification

14th Century had a very high infant mortality rate. In this representation Death also invites a child to dance...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Treatise of the drugs and medicines of the East Indies (16th Century)

Cover from 1578 spanish edition of "Tractado de las drogas y medicinas de las Indias Orientales", by Cristóbal Acosta.

Cristobal Acosta (Portuguese origin but settled down in Burgos at the end of his life) was a Doctor and Physician considered a pioneer in the study of plants and its use in pharmacology. In 1568 he travelled to remote East Indies to serve as personal physician for the Viceroy and started to collect botanical specimens from various parts of India. In 1578 he returned to Spain (Burgos) and commissioned a treatise with all material collected in India during 10 years, named "Treatise of the drugs and medicines of the East Indies". In the treatise he says he was brought to India by his desire to see "the diversity of plants God has created for human health and provide to Occidental Medicine new remedies from distant lands, observed directly on site". Cristobal Acosta provides a very accurate description of each Plant, name and different use provided by local population, most favorable regions to find it, characteristics, and even the value (translated to local goods).

The codex is written in ancient spanish and online hosted by google books. I tried to find references -page by page- to drug plants but most of the references I could find were oriented to plants like cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, peppermint, saffron... I imagine this was the "commercial" side of the Book. During 16th Century, these Plants (spices) were considered as "foreign exchange" and even more valuables that gold...

Cristobal Acosta bio from wikipedia here. 
Cinnamon Plant.
Black pepper tree
Nutmeg tree

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Buccaneers of America" by Alexandre Exquemelin, 17th Century

François l'Olonnais (French) was probably the most cruel pirate in the Caribbean during the 1660s. He caused several losses to Spanish imperium (was known as "El filibustero francés"). He and his crew raped, pillaged, killed and burned complete towns. His operation base was Tortuga Island and payed all his crimes at the end. He had a terrible dead in Darien, Panama, eaten by Kuna tribe. As said in this codex, "tore him in pieces alive, throwing his body limb by limb into the fire and his ashes into the air; to the intent no trace nor memory might remain of such an infamous, inhuman creature."

Original title for this codex is “The Buccaneers of America. A true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of West Indies by the Buccaneers of Jamaica and Tortuga”. This Codex is available on facsimilium DVD collection.

Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin, born about 1645 in France, was the author of this amazing codex, one of the most important sourcebooks of 17th century caribbean piracy. In 1666, while he was trying to escape from European religious persecutions –he was Huguenot-, was engaged by the French West India Company, and travelled to America. During this travel, his merchant ship was intercepted by Caribbean pirates that conducted him to Tortuga Island, where he stayed for at least three years learning and practicing as barber-surgeon. After this time, he finally enlisted with the buccaneers, in particular with the band of Henry Morgan, and remained with them until 1674.
Shortly afterwards he returned to Europe and settled in Amsterdam where he qualified professionally as a surgeon, his name appearing on the 1679 register of the Dutch Surgeons' Guild. However, he was later once again in the Caribbean as his name appears on the muster-roll as a surgeon in the attack on Cartagena de Indias in 1697. At the end, Mr Exquemelin, although a good chronist, was just simply... a caribbean pirate.

The damage inflicted upon Gibraltar (southern shore of Lake Maracaibo) by pirates was so great that the city, formerly a major centre for the exportation of cacao, nearly ceased to exist by 1680.
Bartholomew the Portuguese, another terrible cruelty caribbean pirate, well known by the Spaniards.
Pirate attack on Cartagena de Indias in 1697, by Pirate Baron Pointis.
Pirate attack to Panama Town