You watch the news during breakfast, fiddle with your smartphone on your commute, and flip open your laptop to surf the seemingly endless pages of the Internet. Modern technology spoils us each day with thousands of crisp images, allowing us to more effectively disseminate knowledge and opinion. But for the 500 or so years leading up to such landmark innovations, printmaking prevailed as the leading provider of ideas and imagination amidst our ever-increasingly visual culture.
The present exhibition at the Marvin Samson Center for the History of Pharmacy capitalizes on the significance of printmaking and showcases a historical survey of prints - primarily woodcuts, engravings, and lithographs - from as early as 1480. The culmination of rare books and loose prints created by some of Modernism’s most celebrated artists beckon USciences and the larger Philadelphia community to explore Botanicals to Braque: Five Centuries of the Illustrated Book.
Treasured volumes from the USciences Rare Book Collection are encased throughout the exhibit. There open pages reveal hand-colored woodcuts from 1550, wood engravings from 1667, a lithograph from 1847 and more. Only comprising a portion of the exhibit, the books are complemented by an assemblage of more than 60 loose illustrations spanning five centuries. The loose prints bring a new level of sophistication to the museum because they mark the first appearance of original art by acknowledged giants of Modernism such as Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Chagall, Gauguin, and Miró.
Museum Curator Michael Brody, MA, seized the opportunity to create an exhibition dedicated exclusively to printmaking.
“The opportunity to receive prints from several lenders presented itself and I thought, ‘How can I broaden that and make it more relevant to the ethos here at the University?’ And that is of course not only pharmacy, but generally the health sciences,” Brody explained.
Walking through the museum, you cannot help but stumble upon 12 large elephantine folio botanical prints that once lined the walls of USciences’ 19th century classrooms. The impressive prints, originally done by Arnold and Carolina Dodel-Port, in Esslingen, Germany, between 1878 and 1883 have found a new home in the museum. Although eye-catching because of their large size, other loose prints in accompaniment offer impressive detail and boldness. The oldest hand-colored woodcuts in the exhibition show Achilles learning the harp and Paris killing Achilles with an arrow from Historie von der Zerstörung Trojas, written by Guido de Colonna, the woodcuts were completed between the 1478 and 1479. Rounding out the selection of antique prints is a collection from the Modernist Era which includes several book cover designs from Joan Miró, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso.
Take a moment to put down that smart phone, turn off the TV, and close the laptop as Botanicals to Braque: Five Centuries of the Illustrated Book takes visitors back in time to the earliest days of illustrated book printing.
Learn more about the current exhibit or plan a visit at usciences.edu/museum/.