studies in the history of science and culture
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© August 2005
revised 26 June 2008

Baroque-era printer's ornament

on ananas fructus

This exhibit gives an illustrated natural history (limited to the early modern period) of the Brazilian fruit “the Ananaz,” which Flecknoe described as:

... one of the deliciousest Plants the Earth did e’r produce, it growing like an Artichoke, the leaves thick and sharply Indented, like those of Sempervive, thistly on the top, with a rind all scaly like the pine-apple, which paring off, you find the fruit of the bignesse of an ordinary Meloon, of a Golden colour, and distinguisht into Cells, like Oranges, which slicing and eating in wine (as ’twas affirm’d of Manna) every one finds, that gust and tast in’t, he is the most delighted with.

(Letter XXIII of A Relation of Ten Years
Travells in Europe, Asia, Affrique, and America
e-text in the library, LIB. CAT. NO. FLECK1656)

The exhibit juxtaposes verbal and visual descriptions of the ananas plant from multiple sources, including 17th-century herbals and printer’s marks, and a Wenceslaus Hollar illustration for Ogilby’s China (1669).

Of note, in his China Monumentis (1667), Kircher, building on the groundwork of Michael de Boym’s authoritative Flora Sinensis (1656), argues that the ananas plant was not native to China, but had been brought there for cultivation from Peru (such west-to-east transplantation eased by the fact that the ananas can be grown from a broken-off leaf alone).

Like Flecknoe, Kircher considered ananas fructus the most delicious of all fruit.

TOPICS:  the influence of the artist’s true-to-life study (“true Designes drawn after the life,” as described by Evelyn) on the development of scientific illustration; the growing interest in nature study, including comparative ethnobotany, and its influence on the book trade; collections of “rarities”; popular interest in the exotic travelogue; the role of naturalistic drawings (of American Indians, fish, plants, birds and animals) in easing exploitation of peoples and resources by systematizing the new and unknown; new science syncretism (e.g., explanations of how natural and human diversity arose from a common origin)

Baroque-era printer's ornament

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