Past Events

Mark Catesby's Natural History: The Art, the Science, the Publication

Lecture – Henrietta McBurney, Charlie Jarvis, Leslie K. Overstreet

  • 25 June 2014
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • Seminar Room, Paul Mellon Centre
Bird perched on tree with leaves and berries

Mark Catesby, The ivory-billed woodpecker and willow oak,

Digital image courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II / The Bridgeman Art Library

To be given by Henrietta McBurney Ryan, Senior Research Fellow, PMC; Dr Charlie Jarvis, Department of Life Sciences and the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research, Natural History Museum, London; and Leslie K. Overstreet, Curator of Natural-History Rare Books, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Mark Catesby (1683-1749), English naturalist and artist, produced one of the first fully illustrated natural history colour plate books of the eighteenth century, entitled The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731-47). Acting as his own publisher, the large folio-sized two-volume work was the culmination of Catesby's activities as a collector, explorer and painter in the British colonies of North America during the early part of the eighteenth century. This pioneering book was described at the end of the eighteenth century as 'the most splendid of its kind that England ever produced'.

Three speakers will offer perspectives on the book and its contents from the different disciplines of art history, bibliography and natural science. They will discuss Catesby's images and his artistic practices, the method by which he published his book from the evidence of surviving copies, and his science, including the value of his images to systematists such as Carl Linnaeus, and the role of the associated specimens he preserved. Participants from different disciplines are encouraged to take part in the discussion following the talks.

To book your place please contact the Centre's Co-ordinator Ella Fleming on: [email protected]

About the speakers

  • Henrietta McBurney is an art curator and art historian. She worked as curator in the Print Room of the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, for nearly twenty years. Subsequently she was keeper of fine and decorative art at Eton College, and curator of collections at the Garrick Club, London, and Newnham College, Cambridge; she has since worked freelance as a curator for Cambridge colleges. She has a particular interest in the intersection of art and science. Her most recent book, Illuminating Natural History. The Art and Science of Mark Catesby (Paul Mellon Centre/Yale, June 2021) has been described as “an impressively thorough work of scholarship, and yet far from being as dry as a botanical specimen it brims with Catesby’s thrill in encountering astonishing plants and creatures”.