speech by © David Mabberley
Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands and University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Thank you Stephen for those kind words - and thank you also for inviting me to launch what is a wonderful book in such an exceptional setting in the wonderful state of South Australia.
This book is a celebration, a celebration of many important things, not least the extraordinarily important Santos Museum of Economic Botany in the Adelaide Botanic Garden.
Seeing it yesterday, I was reminded of the many such collections, which have been lost or even willfully destroyed or dispersed. I well remember the bonfires in the early 1970s, instigated by the zealous and dictatorial geneticist, C.D. Darlington, my professor at Oxford, upon which bonfires were put all the models, charts and specimens from the Botany School’s museum, which later became the tearoom. As his trusted lackeys brought materials to the fire some of us rather subversive undergraduates surreptitiously stepped forward to squirrel these things away until more enlightened times.
That tragedy was typical of most of the English-speaking world. Continental Europe was less rash and so there are more such collections surviving there, such as that in the University of Leiden in the Netherlands (where I teach economic botany), the wax models, commodities and other props enlivening my course to the delight of students from all over the world. But what an enormous scientific and aesthetic pleasure it is that here in South Australia, we have the magnificent Santos Museum of Economic Botany, one of the three most significant such surviving anywhere. Adelaide is indeed privileged in having amongst its collections-based cultural organisations, indeed perhaps the most accessible in all sorts of ways, the Botanic Garden with such a priceless treasure in its Museum, helping meet the mission of modern botanic gardens in re-connecting people with plants.
The subject of this book is of course the exquisite paper maché models made by Heinrich Arnoldi & Co of Gotha, Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century. But, first we need to put this into context.
In the absence of means of preserving things like fungi or fruits, scholars first resorted to collections of botanical art – and perhaps the most striking of these is the Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo – a friend of Galileo and who commissioned Poussin to paint for him. The seventeenth-century Paper Museum is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle and is concentrated from a botanical point of view on fungi and citrus fruits. Later came models in wax, the technique, first perfected in the mid-seventeenth century we learn from the book and introduced to Germany from Italy, a pomological cabinet of 12 models appearing in Germany as early as 1796, eventually to become a set of 298 by 1811. These were to be followed by models in papier maché, which was less expensive and less breakable: it also allowed for more realistic painting.
Meanwhile in the German state of Thuringia, Heinrich Johannes Arnoldi (1813-1882) had a porcelain factory, founded in 1808 by his father (whose family included Ernst Wilhem Arnoldi (1778- ), now known as the father of German insurance). The factory was at Elgersburg, on the edge of the Thuringian Forest south of Erfurt and originally made pottery water pipes to replace wooden ones, but in the 1820s was permitted to make porcelain.
Elgersberg Caastle became a health resort next to the Thuringian forest: the Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch, for instance, was a temporary resident there around 1906 and made a number of paintings of the landscape and local people. The Arnoldi family had formerly occupied the castle and there they hosted no less a person than Goethe (who owned Elgersburg porcelain) - for his last birthday - before he died in 1832.
Marble Hill courtyard where the book launch took place ... photo Ben Searcy
Indeed Arnoldis seem to have started with porcelain models, but these shrank by about 10% during the firing, so they were followed by his special kind of papier-mache called compositions-masse, apparently a trade secret, though the ‘mass’ part may well be connected to Porzellanmasse, which is ground kaolin, feldspar and quartz sand used in porcelain manufacture. In 1855, then, the Thuringian Pomological Society of Gotha commissioned Arnoldi to make replicas of fruits to document the pomological riches of the region.
Each model took two years to prepare. A mould of a fruit was made of plaster and then filled with a layer of the papier-maché, the two halves then brought together and covered in light plaster with the sepals and the fruit stalk added before they were painted and final waxed, these last two processes being in the second year when a second fresh fruit was used as the model so as to get the colouring accurate.
By 1866 the series being produced had over 150 subscribers in Europe including Russia, besides USA and Australia. The award-winning models were being made until 1899 and the complete series had 456 models. The Arnoldi family sold the company in 1898 and from 1899 to 1909 a firm trading as an Arnoldi one, perhaps from this factory, seems to have concentrated on making porcelain dolls instead. It closed in 1984 (and is now a tourist attraction as is the German Thermometer Museum in the town and, not far away, the Deutsche Bratwurstmuseum devoted to the famous Thuringian sausage – made since 1404 I understand). But we learn that not all was lost because, since the reunification of Germany, another firm is making such botanical models again.
At least twelve Arnoldi sets are known in Europe, where there are also model collections made by at least eight other manufacturers. This was big business at the time. Although made for didactic purposes, these models are works of art in their own right, and these, like many of the things sent to Professor Darlington’s bonfire, are now eagerly sought by collectors.
The Adelaide set, one of the most complete in the world, comprises 360 models of apples, pears, plums, peaches and an apricot, the fresh fruits for the models being supplied by Friedrich Adolph Haage, who had founded a nursery in Erfurt. His collection, particularly of cacti, was famous and visited by no less than Liszt and von Humboldt - as well as Goethe.
The papier maché models–seem to have been acquired by Schomburgk, the director of the Adelaide Garden, a German of course, in the face of finding it impossible to establish and maintain an orchard of the fruits then growing in South Australia. The models were some of the first things he acquired for the Museum - and the first 150 models cost ten guineas.
Surviving today there are besides the plums, peaches and apricot, 129 models of pears and 192 apples - familiar ones representing Blenheim, Ribston Pippin and Beauty of Boskoop. But among all the reinettes, pippins and court-pendus, most are unfamiliar today. This makes them fascinating and an important lesson for a general public now mercifully with an increasingly healthy interest in heritage fruits and vegetables, the collection helping us to understand what is already lost and what further we are in danger of losing at the hand of supermarket mores – in terms of apples, for instance, all that seems to be needed now in most parts of the world is one yellow, one red and one green.
I hope that the collection and this book will encourage an interest in tracking down ancient cultivars lost to general cultivation, though lurking in country Australia – a few years ago we did this in Victoria and were able to use such to put real plants to names going back to the time of Linnaeus, the Swedish cataloguer of plants in the eighteenth century. As I really like apples, please allow me to say a little more about them!
We are so familiar with apples as the best kind of convenience food that I think we take them as they are a bit for granted. More than that they have entered our language in all sorts of ways, generally indicating wholesomeness and healthy living – ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ and ‘as American as apple-pie’ – and think also of William Tell, and, in science - Isaac Newton, though the Big Apple (New York) is of course something else, as were the classical Apples of the Hesperides (quinces), the apple of the Garden of Eden (possibly Strychnos nux-vomica) and perhaps the apple which ed to the birth of the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima.
Indeed the original wild apples have nothing to do with the Middle east but are found in the mountains of Kazakhstan and western China, where they show a huge diversity and, as seeds are not produced if the flowers are self-pollinated, they keep on throwing up new forms there, associated probably with the ever-changing unstable terrain, besides the peccadilloes of bears - their main dispersal agent. But germane to my theme today I want to quote the words of Barrie Juniper in our book, The Story of the Apple (available in good bookshops everywhere!):
“The production of practically all of the grains and legumes, many of the fruits, and a vast swathe of other crops and ornamentals has passed out of the control of the individual grower. It becomes ever more difficult for the individual farmer or gardener, should he or she so wish, to save seeds for a future generation. A combination of the Green Revolution, agro-industrial control exercised by genetic modification, and bureaucratic diktat, ensures that the genetic basis of our food becomes more restricted by the day.
"But the apple remains a determined, effective, subversive influence. Through the whole growing season, the supermarket shelves of the world display for good commercial reasons probably fewer than fifty apple cultivars. Yet in the orchards of abandoned homesteads in Upper New York State, along the ancient trackways of England, in hedgerows and thickets, and on cliff slopes in the whole of the temperate world, seedling apples of unknown parentage constantly arise. Most of these are of little value except for pig food or rough cider, but here and there a rare, élite individual will emerge.
"Via the simple techniques apparently developed by Bronze Age farmers in the Euphrates valley 3 800 years ago, and easily learnt, these new genotypes, without change over long periods of time, can be spread to the four corners of the earth. Their seedlings lie beyond the control of large-scale commerce, governmental pressure or the boardrooms of agribusiness”.
And finally back to the book! It is an object of great design and beauty.
Author Tony Kanellos ... photo Ben Searcy
The models are photographed by Paul Atkins in a very striking way with dark background and enlarged so that the reader can appreciate the extraordinary craftsmanship and the botanical exactness, complete with blemishes and misshapenness.
The models combine science and art in a very subtle way and I like to think that the Arnoldi family may have been enthralled and inspired by the thoughts of their guest, Goethe, on such matters, as when he referred to the work of perhaps the greatest of natural history painters ever to come to Australia, namely Ferdinand Bauer on Matthew Flinders’s Investigator voyage (1801-3 – and, incidentally the only known oil painting by Bauer to survive is in the art Gallery of South Australia). He wrote of Bauer’s drawings, “It is a real joy to look at these, for Nature is revealed, Art concealed”.
The same can truly be said of these models and this book. In short, Tony’s and Paul’s work is a triumph – this is a book YOU SIMPLY CANNOT AFFORD NOT TO HAVE!
To launch, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘to hurl, shoot, discharge, to send off, to throw, to set into sudden or rapid motion’, but this is a magnificent book that needs little pushing from me: it is jet-propelled! And so it is with the very greatest pleasure, I give you Imitation of Life and its author, Tony Kanellos!
The whole gang : left to right: Paul Atkins, Kate Burns, Judy Potter, Tony Kanellos, Patricia Michel, Edwin Michel; David Mabberley, Stephen Forbes, Bodo Jensen and Greg Crammond ... photo Ben Searcy
Marble Hill in 1900 - completed in 1880, this country house was the summer residence of the Governors of South Australia for seventy five years. Famous for its orchard and all-encompassing views of the Adelaide Plains, it was destroyed in the Black Sunday Bushfires, 2 January 1955.
Photos of the fruit collection by Paul Atkins ... other photos from Botanic Gardens of Adelaide
Imitation of life is available ($69) at the Diggers Garden Shop behind the Museum of Economic Botany in the Adelaide Botanic Garden, North Terrace, Adelaide. It is distributed by Wakefield Press.
For DRINKSTER's preview of the book, click here.