Activities, exhibitions and projects

Ellas Ilustran Botánica

Ellas Ilustran Botánica

Real Jardín Botánico-CSIC

Image: Pia Östlud. Oak leaf, Halmstad, Sweden (Quercus robur), 2013. Natural print. Courtesy of the artist.


From February 22nd to May 18th, 2024

Botany as a science was initially considered a man's domain, while women's involvement was hindered, in some cases persecuted, and at the very least overlooked or ignored. Throughout history and for centuries, female botanical illustration has similarly remained in the background, if not in complete anonymity, because until well into the 18th century, women's roles in any aspect related to botany were limited to plant care.

The exhibition "Ellas Ilustran Botánica" (They Illustrate Botany), resulting from collaboration between the Royal Botanical Garden (RJB) of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Research Group on Art, Technology, Image, and Conservation of Cultural Heritage of the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Complutense University of Madrid, aims not only to end this 'neglect' of female botanical illustration but also to recover the memory of its predecessors who paved the way for today's artists with their pencils and brushes.

The artist Edgar Degas coined the phrase "art is not what you see, but what you make others see," and thus, this exhibition, in the words of the director of RJB-CSIC, María-Paz Martín, "seeks to showcase and educate on the work of female scientific botanical illustrators from the 17th century to the present day, revealing the always enriching relationship between art, science, and gender. The way we understand nature is mediated by images, subtly, creatively, and rigorously shaped by women. This exhibition reveals scientific significance and artistic sensibility."

In the same vein, the artist and professor of Fine Arts at the Complutense University of Madrid, Toya Legido, coordinator of the exhibition project, states that "our goal is to showcase how women have been involved in the study, classification, documentation, and representation of plants, through more than three hundred botanical works and reproductions in different formats such as books, drawings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, and animations."

Alongside Toya Legido, professors Lucía Moreno Diz, Ana J. Revuelta, and Mónica Gener, as curators of "Ellas Ilustran Botánica," agree on the common denominator of the works in this exhibition "in their aesthetic value and the artistic sensibility with which women have created herbariums, showing us how science can be art and art science. But it also teaches us, through their interesting biographies, how by doing this type of work, they broke with the social norms of the time and paved the way for equality."

Lucía Moreno Diz is also responsible for the graphic design of the materials accompanying the exhibition, which will be open for the next three months until May 18th. The exhibition occupies the two rooms of the Villanueva Pavilion and the Cavanilles Chair, showcasing a journey through the various languages, styles, and artistic techniques used to represent flora, and how these have changed depending on the selected object of study, technological advancements, or the ways in which images are reproduced.


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