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Primitive forms and prospects: geological landscapes in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain

Research Lunch – Allison Ksiazkiewicz

  • 5 February 2016
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm
  • Lecture Room, Paul Mellon Centre

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, British mineralogists and geologists appropriated different forms of inquiry such as art and architecture to help them wrestle with the natural and artificial aspects that informed their scientific sensibilities. The relationship between humanity and Nature, as debated in philosophical and artistic circles, paralleled discussions in earth studies and the developing new science of geology. While aesthetic categories such as the picturesque enabled artists to negotiate and articulate attitudes towards Nature that emphasized harmony and balance, these same techniques in scientific depiction cultivated and supported a sense of empirical vision of geological landscapes.

The mineral collections of Sir Charles Greville (1749–1809), Sir John St Aubyn (1758–1839) and Sir Abraham Hume (1749–1838), and A Geological Map of England and Wales by George Bellas Greenough (1778–1855) will be used to explore issues of art and aesthetics in the making of mineralogical and geological knowledge. Greville, St Aubyn and Hume were each influential figures in artistic and scientific communities and commissioned the mineralogist and French émigré Comte de Bournon (1751–1825) to catalogue their respective mineral cabinets. As a student of crystallography, Bournon classified specimens according to basic crystallized shapes that functioned as universal primitive forms. Geologists motivated by mineralogical interpretations of the earth understood geo-landscape through the interpretation of these basic elements. The production of a coloured geological map of England and Wales was one of the first projects undertaken by the Geological Society of London. Greenough, founder and first President of the Society, supported chemical and mineralogical interpretations of earth structure, and used colour to represent the relative positions of strata while maintaining a ‘naturalistic’ palette in the depiction of formations on his map.

Inside of a book showing natural history images and handwritten text

Richard Cust, Drawings of minerals arranged in families according with the system of Professor Jameson. , 1830–1836

Digital image courtesy of Special Collections at Edinburgh University

All are welcome! However, places are limited, so if you would like to attend please contact our Events Manager, Ella Fleming on events@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk

This is a free event and lunch is provided.

About the speaker

  • Head shot of woman with dark hair and glasses

    As a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Allison is completing her book manuscript Archetypes of Nature: visualizing geological landscape during the British Enlightenment based on her PhD dissertation that examines how British geologists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century appropriated language, theory and visualization skills from art and applied these to studies of Nature. In 2013, Allison was awarded a PhD in History of Science from University of Cambridge and has since continued to investigate the entwined nature of art and science in her research. Her work has been supported by various groups such as the Art and Knowledge Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, BSECS and the Bodleian Library, and Special Collections at St Andrews University. Before arriving from Canada for graduate and post-graduate studies in the UK, Allison earned a MA in Art History at York University and a BFA at Mount Allison University.