Coveting Nature explores the ways in which botanists and entomologists worked in tandem with artists and illustrators to record and disseminate knowledge in the early modern period (1500-1800). Natural history owes much to the tradition of assembling cabinets of curiosity in which natural specimens were collected alongside objects with geological, ethnographic, and artistic significance. In this period, the refinement of printed images revolutionized the observational sciences. Increasingly sophisticated woodcuts and eventually engravings, which could be augmented with hand coloring, largely superseded hand-drawn images, more crude woodcuts, and verbal descriptions in scientific publications, while also appealing to artists and art lovers. These refined images were made by professional printmakers as well as by author-illustrators that engraved the plates for their own publications. “Coveting Nature” will also explore the early and significant contributions of female artists and naturalists, such as Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), Anna Ruysch (1666-1754), and Elizabeth Blackwell (1707-1758), and their enduring legacy.
Co-curated by Maureen Warren, curator of European and American art, and Anna Chen, curator at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign