By the mid-nineteenth century the "romantic language of flowers" became a common cultural metaphor. Plants as gifts, herbaria and botanical illustrations became customary. Professor Theresa M. Kelley, one of theClaiming Kin symposium's participants and an author of Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture, applies Linnaeus's termCryptogamia, which designates a class of plants whose reproductive parts are hidden from view, to describe the role of botany as both a "scientific inquiry and a critical component" of the contemporary notion of "the kingdoms of nature, including the human."
The focal point in this case is given to The Flowers Personified, an English translation of Fleurs animées by Jean Gérard, a French caricaturist, known by his nom-de guerre J.J. Grandville, published in 1847. Each print in this book is beautifully hand-colored and represents one or two flowers personified by exquisite young belles. The book was considered a masterpiece of botanical illustration.
J. J. Grandville, born Jean-Ignace-Isidore Gérard, made his reputation as a cartoonist and book illustrator during the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Grandville's book illustrations feature elements of the symbolic, dreamlike and incongruous, sometimes even verging on the surreal. His art often blends human features with the characteristics of animals or inanimate objects in order to make a satirical or political point.
In each hand-colored steel engraving, Grandville characterizes his doll-like ladies with features, dress, and occupations typical of each flower.
Logical predecessors to The Flowers Personified are the books that belong to the genre known as "herbals", some of which we exhibit here. The word "herbal" didn't come into common usage until the beginning of the sixteenth century, but works describing plants and their medical, magical, and culinary possibilities had been among the earliest books in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The first surviving herbal was written about 65 AD by Pedanios Dioscorides and was entitled De materia medica. Herbals are such rich repositories of learning, history, and exploration that they were a great source of inspiration for artists.
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