New Book | The Mind Is a Collection

Posted in books, exhibitions by Editor on March 31, 2016

From Penn Press:

Sean Silver, The Mind Is a Collection: Case Studies in Eighteenth-Century Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 384 pages, ISBN: 978-0812247268, $65 / £42.

81EJZF0Bl-LJohn Locke described the mind as a cabinet; Robert Hooke called it a repository; Joseph Addison imagined a drawer of medals. Each of these philosophers was an avid collector and curator of books, coins, and cultural artifacts. It is therefore no coincidence that when they wrote about the mental work of reason and imagination, they modeled their powers of intellect in terms of collecting, cataloging, and classification.

The Mind Is a Collection approaches seventeenth- and eighteenth-century metaphors of the mind from a material point of view. Each of the book’s six chapters is organized as a series of linked exhibits that speak to a single aspect of Enlightenment philosophies of mind. From his first chapter, on metaphor, to the last one, on dispossession, Sean Silver looks at ways that abstract theories referred to cognitive ecologies—systems crafted to enable certain kinds of thinking, such as libraries, workshops, notebooks, collections, and gardens. In doing so, he demonstrates the crossings-over of material into ideal, ideal into material, and the ways in which an idea might repeatedly turn up in an object, or a range of objects might repeatedly stand for an idea. A brief conclusion examines the afterlife of the metaphor of mind as collection, as it turns up in present-day cognitive studies. Modern cognitive theory has been applied to the microcomputer, and while the object is new, the habit is as old as the Enlightenment.

By examining lived environments and embodied habits from 1660 to 1800, Silver demonstrates that the philosophical dualism that separated mind from body and idea from thing was inextricably established through active engagement with crafted ecologies.

Sean Silver teaches literature at the University of Michigan. Sean Silver’s The Mind is a Collection is a two-part intellectual project featuring a virtual museum (about museums) along with his book, The Mind is a Collection, which serves as both scholarly study and an exhibit catalogue.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊


Preface: Welcome to the Museum

Case 1. Metaphor
1  John Locke’s Commonplace Book
2  John Milton’s Bed
3  Mark Akenside’s Museum

Case 2. Design
4  Robert Hooke’s Camera Obscura
5  Raphael’s Judgment of Paris
6  A Gritty Pebble
7  An Oval Portrait of John Woodward
8  A Stone from the Grotto of Egeria
9  Venus at Her Toilet

Case 3. Digression
10  The Iliad in a Nutshell
11  A Full Stop
12  A Conical Roman Tumulus
13  The Reception of Claudius
14  Addison’s Walk

Case 4. Inwardness
15  William Hay’s Stone
16  Two Calculi Cut and Mounted in a Small Showcase
17  An Ampulla of the Blood of Thomas Becket
18  A Blue-Bound Copy of The Mysterious Mother

Case 5. Conception
19  A Blank Sheet of Paper (1)
20  A Folio Sheet with Two Sketches of a Single Conception
21  A Triumph of Galatea
22  Joshua Reynolds, William Hunter

Case 6. Dispossession
23  A Shilling
24  A Book of Accounts
25  A Blank Sheet of Paper (2)
26  A Ring Containing a Lock of Hair
27  The Lost Property Office
28  The Skeleton of Jonathan Wild



Exhibition | Maria Merian’s Butterflies

Posted in catalogues, exhibitions by Caitlin Smits on March 31, 2016

From the Royal Collection Trust:

Maria Merian’s Butterflies
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, 15 April — 9 October 2016
The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, 17 March — 23 July 2017

Curated by Kate Heard

I had the plates engraved by the most renowned masters, and used the best paper in order to please both the connoisseurs of art and the amateur naturalists interested in insects and plants.
—Maria Sibylla Merian

Merian-PP-For-TRADE-Cat-190x150mm.inddIn 1699, the German artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian set sail for Suriname, in South America. There she would spend two years studying the animals and plants which she encountered, aiming to explore the life-cycle of insects (then only partially understood). Those studies led to the publication of the Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (the Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname), a luxury volume which brought the wonders of Suriname to Europe.

Maria Merian’s Butterflies tells Merian’s story through her works in the Royal Collection, acquired by George III. Many are luxury versions of the plates of the Metamorphosis, partially printed and partially hand painted onto vellum by the artist herself. Over three hundred years after they were made, these meticulous, brilliant works celebrate a woman whose art and whose story are enduringly popular.

Maria Merian’s Butterflies is shown at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace with Scottish Artists 1750–1900: From Caledonia to the Continent.

The catalogue is available in the U.S. and Canada from The University of Chicago Press:

Kate Heard, Maria Merian’s Butterflies (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2016), 192 pages, ISBN: 978-1909741317, £15.

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) trained as an artist under her stepfather in Nuremberg. Fascinated by butterflies and moths from an early age, she studied the insect life cycle through the animals she found in local fields and gardens, recording her discoveries in meticulous watercolors and prints. After she moved to Amsterdam in 1691, Merian became interested in the wildlife of Suriname, which she encountered in the collectors’ cabinets and botanical gardens in the city. Merian’s fascination with Suriname led her to undertake a trip to the country, then a Dutch colony, to study insects in their natural habitat. Between 1699 and 1701, she worked in Suriname, making expeditions around the country to collect specimens, rearing butterflies and moths and recording their eating habits and metamorphoses.

Merian’s work in Suriname was published on her return to Amsterdam as the Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, or The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname. This groundbreaking book presented the insects that Merian had studied, with each insect life cycle shown on the correct host plant—an approach which has seen her described as ‘the first ecologist’. Merian’s illustrations are scientifically rigorous, but they are also beautiful, reflecting her training as an artist in the still-life tradition. Her approach to scientific illustration would be adopted by many of the natural historians who followed her.

Maria Merian’s Butterflies tells Merian’s story through her works in the Royal Collection. The core of these is a set of plates from the Metamorphosis, partially printed and partially drawn on vellum, which were acquired by George III as part of his extensive scientific library. Over three hundred years after they were made, these meticulous, brilliant works celebrate a woman whose art and whose story are enduringly popular.

Kate Heard is Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust. Her previous publications include High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson (2013) and she is Deputy Editor of the Journal of the History of Collections.


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