The Age of Discovery, the 15th through the 18th centuries, gave rise to magnificent exploits and explorations of art, science and ideas. Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery is a rich testament to that heady period. In the book, renowned British naturalist and documentary-maker Sir David Attenborough teams with three august (if comparatively unknown) colleagues Susan Owens, Martin Clayton and Rea Alexandratos to explore the artistic legacies of four gifted European artist-scientists and one passionate antiquarian living in that time, who devoted their lives and art to investigating the flora and fauna of the old, new and Far Eastern worlds.
Attenborough's introductory essay traces the origins of picturing the natural world, setting the stage for the scientific and artistic enquiries of Leonardo da Vinci, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby, whose work is chronicled in five successive essays. Artworks are elegantly interspersed throughout the text and comprise a wonder of visual delights: full-color plates (enlivened by Attenborough's arcane, amusing commentary) and figures of plants, insects and animals ranging from da Vinci's anatomical studies of horses and bears to Merian's pioneering depictions of insects and plants in the South American Dutch colony of Surinam. Of particular note are the discussions of dal Pozzo's Paper Museum, his encyclopedic collection of drawings and prints by a range of artists, and the account of Merian's journeys extraordinary undertakings for a 17th-century divorced woman in her fifties.
All artist plates in Amazing Rare Things are from the Royal Library collection at Windsor Castle; figures derive from the archives of the British Museum, the British Library and numerous other sources. A reading list is included for those who wish to know more about da Vinci, et al. In today's world, imperiled as it is with threats of global warming and loss of various species, this stunningly beautiful book is a masterful tribute and a wakeup call.
Former park ranger Alison Hood enjoys the amazing redwoods of Northern California.