“…the botanical artist finds himself at once and always in a dilemma: Is he the servant of Science, or of Art? There can, I think, be no doubt that he must learn to serve both masters…”
Wilfrid Blunt The Art of Botanical Illustration
Since antiquity Nature has always been an infinite source of inspiration for many artists for many reasons, from symbolism to decoration or identification. Some amongst the most recognized and celebrated works of art such as Van Gogh’ Sunflowers and Irises, or Monet’s series of the “Nympheas”, to name just a few, depict flowers. These great artworks were painted from nature but they were not intended to be botanically accurate. The artists who painted them were not interested in achieving this accuracy; they were expressing their emotional response to what they saw.
The botanical artists instead must make images scientifically and botanically correct, so that the viewer can identify the plant portraited, but they also have to be able, with their artistic expression, to evoke an emotional response from the observer.
For this reason in botanical art, an artistic genre based on a centuries-old tradition and still very much alive today, there is a constant interaction between art and science, and this is often what the artists find most challenging and appealing.
Portraits of the artists Heinrich Füllmaurer, Albrecht Meyer, and Veit Rudolph Speckle who were involved in making the illustrations of Leonhart Fuchs’ De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes (1542), one of the most beautiful herbal ever published.
Jacopo Ligozzi Ficus carica L. with Vidua Macroura, Steganura paradisea and Hypochera Chalybeata 1577-1587. Florence, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi
I don’t aspire to make artworks that look like photographs. In my portraits of the plant, or part of the plant that have inspired me, I try to make a unified pictorial image which could give back a feeling of presence and truthfulness of the designed botanical subject and its great beauty. Although objectifying registration is of the uttermost importance in this genre, as an artist I still have the freedom to make my personal visual choices. I can decide how I like to portray my subject, balancing aesthetic and visual considerations with the need to represent it in the most accurate and informative way.
Giuliana works only from living specimens and by natural light. She can spend from weeks to even months to complete a painting. She loves the botanical art traditional method of watercolours, but also likes to use other media, including graphite, color pencil, charcoal, choosing from time to time the medium in function of the plant she is going to portray.
When not painting she likes to travel and explore the European botanical art archives studying the works of the artists of the past in order to better understand the present.
‘Bene, vediamo un po’ come fiorisci,
come ti apri, di che colore hai I petali,
quanti pistilli hai, che trucchi usi
per spargere il tuo polline e ripeterti,
se hai fioritura languida o violenta,
che portamento prendi, dove inclini,
se nel morire infradici o insecchisci,
avanti su, io guardo, tu fiorisci.’
da Poesie, Patrizia Cavalli, Einaudi 1999
‘Well, let's see how you flower,
how you open yourself, the color of your petals,
how many pistils you have, what tricks you use
to spread your pollen and repeat yourself,
if you have languid or violent bloom,
what bearing you take, where you incline,
if in dying you drench or dry,
go on, I look, you flower.’