Scientific Illustrations: Renderings of the World Past and Present
This exhibition is a joint endeavour of the Departments of Anthropology and of Art and Art History; it showcases drawings executed by the students in Professor Patricia O’Leary’s class, Technical Drawing in Anthropology.
The drawings in this installation are juxtaposed with an assortment of nature specimens from around the world, with ritual objects from Africa, and with the 18th- and early 20th-century books on archaeology of ancient Egypt. This deliberate arrangement aims to provide a sense of the broader historical and cultural contexts for these works and mimics a centuries-old tradition known as the cabinet of curiosities. Such cabinets, whether a room, a box, or a piece of furniture, would contain small collections of unusual or delightful objects, such as human and animal bones, minerals, stones, ethnographic and archaeological artifacts, and perhaps even an item from a secret lover. The cabinets of curiosities first appear in the 16th century in the West; soon thereafter they become widely popular throughout Europe and the US and are to be found in the private homes. Wealthy individuals could showcase their travels and tastes through their collected items and the cabinets became status symbols to display one’s education and social status.
In the centuries prior to the accessibility of photography, the ability to draw was not only considered a sign of a well-rounded education, but a matter of necessity. Capturing likeness of a rare bird or a beetle or sketching a ritual adze of the Kuba people of Central Africa, was essential to the work of scholars, collectors, and travellers, who had to rely on their own drawing skills or on those of their companions. This exhibition highlights the ways in which drawings yield insight into someone’s preoccupations and their use of pencil and chalk to capture the objects for their and other’s scrutiny and enjoyment.
The cabinet of curiosities and the hand-made drawings may seem to be objects of the past. In fact, they do connect us to the present by reminding us that how we see, what catches our attention, and what we might want to capture for time.
A selection of two archaeology books in the exhibition refers to the scholarly use of drawings and sketches.
An arrangement of a desk, chair, a typewriter, and a globe – together with two late 19th century photographs on the wall next to it – evokes a study of a late 19th – early 20th century scholar-traveller-collector.
This exhibition includes:
- Drawings by: Drew Carpino, Emilia Fitzherbert, Alina Grant, Declan Huddleston, Sean Kenny, Kaylee Matos, James Michelitsch, Patricia O’Leary, Evan Pereira, Brett Pine, Daniel Pisarevsky, Ethan Solis
- African implements from the Adelphi University Collection (ex-collection of Dr. Frederick and Claire Mebel)
- Assortment of nature specimens from the Cabinets of Curiosity of the Department of Art and Art History, Adelphi University
- Books from the Special Collections, Adelphi University
- Desk and chair of Dean Ruth S. Harley (1902-2005), Special Collections, Adelphi University
- Globe from collection of Prof. Jennifer Maloney, Adelphi University
- Copy of River Scenery on the West Coast, lithograph from David Livingstone’s Annotated Proof of his Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, ca. 1856-1857
- Copy of a photograph of the British tourists in front of the Great Sphinx and the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, ca. 1901.
Prints of the following paintings:
- Domenico Remps, Cabinet of Curiosities, 1690s. Oil on panel. Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence, Italy
- Frans Francken the Younger, Cabinet of Art and Curiosities, 1636. Oil on panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Venna, Austria