Reflected illustrations of knowledge instead of lifeless flowers – some remarks on still life female artists
Female artists of the 18th century often paint (only) still lifes – and thus produce works in a genre that is still regarded today as a inferior in the canon of art. Using selected examples from the 18th century, structures of aesthetic and semantic task management of these female artists are to be shown, which also allow a different conclusion and are able to place some of these works in a different, more appropriate discourse. The ongooing research at the University of Kassel since 2012 on female painters who were either admitted to the Academy itself (Kassel 1777 -1800) or even worked as teachers in the close environment of an art academy (Dresden 1780-1800) showed the abilities of some of these female artists to work in a distinctly niche function. With their representations, they worked as a mediator between text and image and thus often in the field of scientific illustration. This can be demonstrated here using the example of several of these artists. Their works involve a translation process from nature observation to representation. The illustrations often were used also for books. Illustrators (and publishers) such as Susanna Drury (active between 1733-1770) are also to be observed in this context.
While one – Christiane Louise von Solms-Laubach – was appointed a member of the Berlin Society of Friends of Natural Sciences through her works in 1784, the other remained almost completely hidden in the shadow of her famous husband, the professor of anatomy, until her early death. Also in the field of artistic education and training parallel to teaching, the quality of accurate observation of nature is reflected simultaneously in letters. The instructions in their correspondences of teachers like Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki (1726-1801) from Berlin and Johann Georg Wille (1715-1808) from Paris are an interesting starting point for the reconstruction of the commitment in these areas. The works of Caroline Friederike Friedrich (1749-1815) and her pupil Therese Richter (1777-1865) as well of Margaretha Barbara Dietzsch (1726-1795) can also be seen to some extent as depictions, which are usually understood as pure still lifes, but have an additional aspect in the way in which they consider the objects.
The question is to what extent these artists go beyond or remain behind the two model representatives of 17th century art – Sibylla Merian and Rachel Ruysch. This is a question that Acta Biohistorica also tries to pursue from a different perspective. Insofar as questions of visual knowledge in science communication are again receiving increased attention, a look at the discussion about the framework or conditions of scientific illustration, as addressed by an exhibition at the Ethnological Museum Hamburg on female science illustrators around 1900, can help to change forms of composition as an independent and demanding task in knowledge transfer.