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Before Disenchantment: Images of Exotic Animals and Plants in the Early Modern World

By: Peter Mason

272 pages, 140 b/w illus

Reaktion Books

Hardback | Jul 2009 | #188763 | ISBN-13: 9781861894373
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £28.99 $35/€33 approx

About this book

When explorers and artists travelled to new lands in the early modern period, the exotic plants and animals that they encountered often seemed strange and outlandish. This book examines how these artists grappled with the problems of representing unfamiliar flora and fauna, in particular anomalous cases that seemed to defy straightforward classification as either plant or animal.

One solution was to describe and portray these alien animals and plants as strange hybrids of both, and the images they made took many forms from the Lamb of Tartary, which grew inside a large gourd-like fruit to camel-sheep and to races of monopods and red-haired human dwarves. Peter Mason looks at these and the figures who made these curious images, who ranged widely in expertise from the amateur sketches of the German adventurer Caspar Schmalkalden to the consummate artistry of Peter Paul Rubens and from the painstaking antiquarian interests of Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc to the homely observations of the natural world by the Dutch beachcomber Adriaen Coenen.

In taking the world-view of the early modern period seriously, the book breaks with orthodox histories of scientific illustration that imagine a linear evolution towards an ever more enlightened science.

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Peter Mason is the author of many books, including The Lives of Images (Reaktion, 2001). He lives in Rome and works as a consultant in art and anthropology for the Fundacion America, Santiago de Chile.

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