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Image of the Week: N is for Natural Curiosity

27 Jun, 2014

Illustration showing white magnolia blossom (Magnolia altifima) and its seed pod.


This week’s image is an illustration showing white magnolia blossom and its seed pod, taken from a book by Mark Catesby. The title of this beautiful book is proportionate to the length of time and labour involved in its making – consisting of no less than 79 words!

Here it is in full:

“The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects and plants: particularly the forest-trees, shrubs, and other plants, not hitherto described, or very incorrectly figured by authors. Together with their descriptions in English and French. To which are added observations on the air, soil, and waters: with remarks upon agriculture, grain, pulse, roots, &c. To the whole, is prefixed a new and correct map of the countries treated of.”

Mark Catesby was an English naturalist with an insatiable curiosity about nature. This book documents the flora and fauna that he saw on a four-year trip to the south-eastern United States and the Caribbean. It took him seventeen years to prepare and its exquisite folio-sized colour plates were the first to be used in natural history books.

Visitors to Wellcome Collection can see the book in a newly opened exhibition entitled An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition. The show offers an eclectic alphabet mediated through strange and wonderful objects drawn from Henry Wellcome’s collection and contemporary artworks, from A for Acts of Faith to Z for Zoonoses.

Whist offering intriguing medical artefacts, paintings, photographs and sculptures for consideration, the exhibition also calls for contributions from visitors. Each letter has both objects and an activity associated with it. Catesby’s book represents N for Natural Curiosity and it is accompanied by an invitation for visitors to discover their inner naturalist by sharing weird and delightful things they’ve seen in nature.

Tagging your contributions “#HumanNature” and sharing them via Instagram or Twitter will allow us to find them and display them in the gallery to foster natural curiosity in others.

The free exhibition, Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition, is now open to visitors at the Wellcome Collection. Find out about more objects for consideration and opportunities for contribution and see what others are sharing by following the hashtag “#HumanCondition” on social media.

Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.

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