Past Events

Illustrations and Illuminations

Lecture, Research Seminar – Henrietta McBurney, Joseph Viscomi, Martin Myrone

  • 2 March 2022
  • 6:30 – 8:00 pm
  • The second in a series of talks in Spring 2022 by authors of books recently published by the Paul Mellon Centre.
  • Online

Join us for a series of talks in Spring 2022 by authors of books recently published by the Paul Mellon Centre. Each author will give a glimpse into their project, sharing insights about the process of researching, writing, and publishing their book. There will be two talks of around 20 minutes each, followed by a discussion and Q&A session.

In the second of these events, Henrietta McBurney will discuss her book Illuminating Natural History: The Art and Science of Mark Catesby and Joseph Viscomi will speak about William Blake’s Printed Paintings. Together, the authors will consider how art and cultural histories tackle issues around illustration, copies, copying and originality, as well as questions of professional status, authorial voice, and vision. The evening will be chaired by British Art Network convener, Martin Myrone.

This event is online only.

Book cover Illuminating Natural History: The Art and Science of Mark Catesby

The book explores the life and work of the celebrated eighteenth-century English naturalist, explorer, artist, and author Mark Catesby (1683–1749). During Catesby’s lifetime, science was poised to shift from a world of amateur virtuosi to one of professional experts. Working against a backdrop of global travel that incorporated collecting and direct observation of nature, Catesby spent two prolonged periods in the New World – in Virginia (1712–19) and South Carolina and the Bahamas (1722–6). In his majestic two-volume Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1731–43), esteemed by his contemporary John Bartram as “an ornament for the finest library in the world”, he reflected the excitement, drama, and beauty of the natural world. Interweaving elements of art history, history of science, natural history illustration, painting materials, book history, paper studies, garden history and colonial history, this book brings together many unpublished images as well as newly discovered letters by Catesby, which, with their first-hand accounts of his collecting and encounters in the wild, bring the story of this extraordinary pioneer naturalist vividly to life.

Book cover William Blake’s Printed Paintings: Methods, Origins, Methods

Among William Blake’s (1757–1827) most widely recognised and highly regarded works as an artist are twelve colour printed drawings, or monoprints, conceived and executed in 1795. Joseph Viscomi’s William Blake’s Printed Paintings: Methods, Origins, Meanings investigates these masterworks, explaining Blake’s technique – one he essentially reinvented, unaware of seventeenth-century precursors – to show that these works are paintings and played a crucial role in Blake’s development as a painter. Using material and historical analyses, he argues that the monoprints were created as autonomous designs rather than as illustrations for Blake’s illuminated books with an intended viewing order. Enlivened with bountiful illustrations, the text approaches the works from the perspective of the studio and within the context of their time, not divorced from ideas expressed in Blake’s writings but not illustrative of or determined by those writings.

About the speakers

  • Henrietta McBurney is a freelance curator and art historian. She was previously curator in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. Her publications include studies on the florilegium of Alexander Marshal and the natural history drawings for Cassiano dal Pozzo’s Paper Museum.

  • Joseph Viscomi is the James G. Kenan Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow and co-editor/creator with Robert N. Essick and Morris Eaves of The William Blake Archive (, a hypermedia digital database of Blake's poetry and art based on over 7,000 high-resolution images drawn from Blake’s illuminated books, paintings, drawings, manuscripts, and engravings. The Archive’s structure and rationale grew out of his Blake and the Idea of the Book (Princeton, 1993) and the editors’ earlier projects for the William Blake Trust (vols. 3 and 5 of William Blake’s Illuminated Books, Tate/Princeton, 1993). Conceived and designed in 1993–95, launched in 1996, and completely redesigned with new tools and capacities in 2016 and 2017, the Archive has published over 155 fully searchable and scalable digital editions of Blake’s works in all genres and four digital exhibitions. It became the first digital scholarly edition to receive the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Prize for a Distinguished Scholarly Edition (2003) and the first to receive its Approved Edition seal (2005). He is also the author of Prints by Blake and his Followers (1983), William Blake’s Printed Paintings: Methods, Origins, Meanings (PMC 2021), and numerous articles on illuminated printing, colour printing, and Blake's market and reputation in the mid-nineteenth century.

  • Martin Myrone is Head of Grants, Fellowships and Networks at the Paul Mellon Centre. Before joining the Centre in 2020, Martin spent over twenty years in curatorial roles at Tate, London. His many exhibitions at Tate Britain have included Gothic Nightmares (2006), John Martin (2011), William Blake (2019) and Hogarth and Europe (2021). His research and publications have focused on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, with a special interest in artistic identity and artists’ labour, class, cultural opportunity and gender. His many published works include Bodybuilding: Reforming Masculinities in British Art 1750–1810 (2005) and Making the Modern Artist: Culture, Class and Art-Educational Opportunity in Romantic Britain (2020), both published by the Paul Mellon Centre.