52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 1: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine
Last year, we started an experiment here at Echoes to create a post once a week focused on fantastic bindings found throughout the collections. This year-long thread was a great success: not only did it attract a lot of regular attention to the blog, but it also gave our curators an excuse to trawl the collections on weekly basis for beautiful books. We’ve decided to follow up this successful year with a new thread: 52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations. This year we’ll focus on gorgeous book engravings and decorations, on paintings and marginalia found in manuscripts, on the history of the photographic illustrative method and simply on pretty things found in our collections. It’s a great excuse for us to focus on the visual in our holdings, to feature items which speak for themselves. So we hope to put up a nice selection of images from each chosen work. We have had great fun planning out the first half of the year and there are some beauties in preparation. We hope you’ll join us on this year-long exploration of our collections and hope that you see something inspiring along the way! Our aim is to share the ‘wow factor’!
The Botanical Magazine; or Flower-Garden Displayed is the longest-running botanical magazine, having begun in 1787 and remaining continuously in print until 1983, when its name was changed to The Kew Magazine . The journal was significant for its first publication of many plants along with very detailed hand-coloured illustrations, until the introduction of a photo-mechanical process in 1948. The accuracy and careful depiction of the specimens was of great significance for the status of this journal as a work of reference. St Andrews has a near-complete set of this beautifully illustrated periodical, and it certainly deserves this first post on inspiring illustrations, especially since the Scottish summer this year has been particularly cold and wet!
This magazine is renowned for featuring the work of Great Britain’s finest botanic illustrators. The magazine has had strong links with Kew Gardens since its inception by William Curtis, a botanist and apothecary working at Kew. Curtis supervised the first 13 issues of the Botanical Magazine which included the illustrative work of Sydenham Edwards and James Sowerby. The first 30 issues featured three plates each, each plate being a hand-coloured copperplate engraving. Later issues of the magazine feature the work of Walter Hood Fitch, Matilda Smith and Lilian Snelling. Over the years the Botanical Magazine has widely been regarded as the finest of its kind by botanists, horticulturalists and gardeners alike. The quality of these illustrations have inspired generations of amateur and professional scientists and artists, and the occasional librarian and archivist as well!
–DG & RH