Between 1777 and 1816, botanical expeditions crisscrossed the vast Spanish empire in an ambitious project to survey the flora of much of the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. While these voyages produced written texts and compiled collections of specimens, they dedicated an overwhelming proportion of their resources and energy to the creation of visual materials. European and American naturalists and artists collaborated to manufacture a staggering total of more than 13,000 botanical illustrations.
Yet these images have remained largely overlooked – until now. In this lavishly illustrated volume Visible Empire, Daniela Bleichmar gives this archive its due, finding in these botanical images a window into the worlds of Enlightenment science, visual culture, and empire. Through innovative interdisciplinary scholarship that bridges the histories of science, visual culture, and the Hispanic world, Bleichmar uses these images to trace two related histories: the little-known history of scientific expeditions in the Hispanic Enlightenment and the history of visual evidence in both science and administration in the early modern Spanish empire.
As Visible Empire shows, in the Spanish empire visual epistemology operated not only in scientific contexts but also as part of an imperial apparatus that had a long-established tradition of deploying visual evidence for administrative purposes.
List of Illustrations
Natural History and Visual Culture in the Spanish Empire
A Botanical Reconquista
Natural History and Visual Epistemology
Painting as Exploration
Economic Botany and the Limits of the Visual
Visions of Imperial Nature: Global White Space, Local Color
The Empire as an Image Machine
Daniela Bleichmar is assistant professor in the Departments of Art History and History at the University of Southern California.
"Lavishly illustrated and lucidly written [...] . Bleichmar's arresting Visible Empire contributes to the ongoing recovery of the formative – but hitherto little-known – role that Spain and its colonies played in this crucial period in the history of science."
"Bleichmar uses this vast (and gorgeous) archive of botanical images assembled by Spanish natural history expeditions to explore the connections between natural history, visual culture, and empire in the eighteenth century Hispanic world. In beautifully argued chapters, Bleichmar explores the ways that eighteenth century natural history expeditions were grounded in a visual epistemology where observation and representation were powerful tools for negotiating both scientific and imperial spheres."
– Carla Nappi, New Books in Science, Technology, and Society
"Visible Empire explores an important yet virtually unexplored chapter in the history of Spain's eighteenth-century Enlightenment. It was then that the country's Bourbon monarchy, for reasons both commercial and scientific, set out to discover, record, and systematically classify the botanical riches of the New World. This ambitious project resulted in thousands of botanical illustrations of extraordinary originality and quality, many of which are reproduced in this handsome volume for the very first time. Bleichmar's approach to these images is imaginatively interdisciplinary, as she examines the circumstances surrounding their production; the artists, native as well as Spanish and creole, involved; together with the thorny aesthetic issues that representing nature necessarily entails. She also situates these images within the broader context of the Enlightenment's quest to understand the mysteries of the natural world. Visible Empire is an extraordinary achievement, and definitely one that deserves a wide audience."
– Richard L. Kagan, Johns Hopkins University
"Daniela Bleichmar finds a late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Hispanic world, not overstretched and reeling upon its 'last legs' of empire, but rather fired by the prospect of revealing a vast and valuable nature within its realms, and thus newly ambitious, interconnected, and fervently in motion. With elegance and precision, she shows how the travels and labors of a startling array of investigators, botanists, and artists converged to make empire not only viable but visible. Their global enterprise, and the knowledges, realizations, and values they produced, are still very much with us today."
– Kenneth Mills, University of Toronto