Articles

The Paper Museum

Freedberg, David A.

Early in the seventeenth century, Cassiano dal Pozzo made an attempt to gather a comprehensive visual record of the natural world.

In 1985, in a cupboard in Windsor Castle, I found a cache of several hundred of the most beautiful natural history drawings I had ever seen. I was astonished by both their quality and their range. There were drawings of animals, birds, fishes, plants, fungi, fossils, gems, and minerals. They included drawings that magnified animal and plant parts, as well as representations of many unexpected species, from lowly grasses to puzzling mollusks and curious mushrooms. The drawings also showed a few recently discovered plants and animals from the New World. I seemed to be in the presence of a vast attempt to catalogue all of nature. But where had those drawings come from, who had made them, and why had they been done with such extraordinary intensity and closeness of observation?

What led me to that cupboard in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle was a book I was writing about a Jesuit priest by the name of Giovanni Battista Ferrari (1585-1653), who had roused my interest because of his unusual career--unusual even by the standards of many of the brilliant members of that enterprising and controversial religious order. At first a professor of Hebrew at the Jesuit College in Rome, Ferrari soon gave himself over to his chief passion: gardening. When Urban VIII became pope in 1623, Ferrari was taken on as chief horticultural adviser to the papal family, the Barberini. This was the same family that would soon form an alliance with the Jesuits against Galileo. Ferrari himself had been present on that famous occasion in 1611 when Galileo first explained his use of the telescope to the very Jesuits who, within a few years, became his fiercest opponents. No one had written in any detail about Ferrari's life or about his lovely books on horticulture and botany. I was particularly interested in his last book, the Hesperides seu de malorum aureorum cultura (Hesperides, or On the Cultivation of the Golden Apples), published in Rome in 1646. Its engravings depicted more than 150 varieties of citrus fruit, and I went searching for the original drawings. Eventually I found more than a hundred of them-- watercolors of citrus fruit in every imaginable shape and form--at Windsor Castle. On that same serendipitous day, mixed in with those drawings I found an unexpected number of natural history watercolors.

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Title
Natural History

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Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Published Here
October 5, 2022