Antique naturalism exhibit at KAM closing soon

Greg Gancarz


Krannert Art Museum’s ‘Coveting Nature’ exhibit enters its final month on display this December.

The exhibit, on display since August, features over a dozen prints and illustrations from antique botany and scientific works from the 16th to 19th centuries. The exhibit is meant to highlight the emerging world of art and illustration that accompanied the then rapidly expanding field of what would become modern naturalism.

The event’s final date of display is Dec. 22.

Works of art on display include pieces ranging from purely artistic still-life paintings to depictions of plant and animal life meant for scientific reference. The many life-like illustrations are mostly printed in massive tomes. Most of those on display are still in impressive condition, considering their great age.

According to the museum’s website “in these centuries, the refinement of printed images revolutionized the observational sciences. Increasingly sophisticated woodcuts and engravings superseded hand-drawn images, cruder prints, and strictly verbal descriptions, while also appealing to artists and art lovers. These images could be augmented with hand coloring and were made by professional printmakers as well as by author-illustrators who engraved the plates for their own publications.”

One of the aged books on display is a 1665 copy of “Micrographia,” the first English publication to illustrate observations made under a microscope. The book on display in the exhibit lays open to an intricately illustrated closeup of a fly’s eye, or eyes to be precise, each one precisely drawn and detailed. The illustration fully takes up two pages of the large book.

Another item on display is the newly acquired 1690s still-life painting by Anna Ruysch, “Still Life of Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Stone Table Ledge.” The painting was only recently acquired by the Krannert Art Museum this year.

The Ruysch painting is just one of many paintings by female artists. According to the Krannert Art Museum’s website “Coveting Nature also explores the early and significant contributions of female artists and naturalists such as Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) and Anna Ruysch (1666–1754) and their enduring legacy for contemporary artists.”

The British born Elizabeth Blackwell is another one of the female artists whose work is on display at the museum’s exhibit. Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, as well as the first woman on the UK Medical Register.

Books and pieces on display range from countries from Holland to France and include as many languages. Many of the books in the exhibit are written in Latin, the language of scholarly pursuits in many of the featured time periods. It isn’t until the later centuries featured in the exhibit that viewers will notice the text being written in the common language of the nation where the book was published.

The artistic subject field was important for more than just scientific reference. It also served as an artistic outlet for many. According to the website of the museum, “illustrated botanical and entomological publications served a variety of purposes for contemporaries—they advanced scientific study, inspired religious contemplation, and served as models for artists including still life painters and embroiderers.”

For those interested in examining the many prints and paintings before they are taken off display, the exhibit’s room is located directly adjacent to the museum’s European and North American art hallway.

For further info, patrons are encouraged to call the museum directly at 217-333-1861. The museum is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is located at 500 E Peabody Drive in Champaign. The museum is open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays while classes remain in session and is closed on Sundays and holidays.