Thursday, 29 August 2013

A Cabinet of Curiosities - Knorr's "Delight of the Eyes and the Mind/Soul"

Shells have always been considered "artifices of nature", and therefore a tangible reflection of the wonder and perfection of Creation. George Perry, in his introduction to the Natural History of Shells, reflected on how these objects, with their outstandingly complex architecture based on a logarithmic spiral, invite the viewer to contemplate divine excellence.
By the mid-18th century,  the fashion for conchology was widespread in Europe: the publication of important illustrated volumes (see Dezallier's d'Argenville La Conchyliologie) and a noticeable shift in collecting taste, attracted a growing number of amateurs from the European aristocracy and the emerging bourgeoisie. The beauty of shells, furthermore, was believed to possess no only the twin faculty of elevating the spirit and recreating the senses, but also the quality of refining the taste and creativity of artists. 
A precious contribute to the publication of books dedicated to the study of conchology was provided by the eclectic figure of Georg Wolfgang Knorr.
Georg Wolfgang Knorr was born on December 30th, 1705, in Nuremberg. At age 18, he learned engraving and became a copperplate engraver for Johann Leonhard Blanc, working under Martin Tyroff on the illustrations for Johann Jacob Scheuchzer’s “Copper-Bible” Physica sacra (1731–1735). As a result of that work he became interested in the natural sciences. His tutor Blanc passed away in 1725 and through his own studies, Knorr gained a wide knowledge in art history and the natural sciences. Two of his friends, probably Johann Christoph and Johann Sigmund Dietzsch, tutored him in engraving landscapes. Around 1730 he started a publishing firm, which was continued after his death by his heirs until 1765. From 1726 until 1760, he engraved portraits, landscapes, geological formations, and animal studies after Dürer and the Kilian family. He was a paleontologist, as well as a painter, draftsman, engraver, collector, publisher and art dealer. He published numerous engravings, some as single folios and some in books.
In the second half of the 18th century Nuremberg overtook Augsburg as the centre of production for fine natural history books in Germany, due to the stimulus of C,J. Trew (Wunschmann, 1894: 593-595), a wealthy physician at Nuremberg, who assembled a number of artists and scientists around him. This group included Knorr as well as J.C. Dietzsch, J.C. Keller, C.N. Kleemann, C. Leinberger, A. Hoffer, J.A. Eisenmann and J.F. Schmidt. They contributed to the drawing, engraving and hand-coloring of the plates of several natural history publications. Trew owned a natural his- tory collection and menagerie. Many animals and curiosities described and depicted in Knorr's Deliciae Naturae Selectae originated from his collection, as indicated by Ex. Museo Excell. D.D. Chris. Jac. Trew at the bottom of each plate. 

Deliciae Naturae Selectae. Tav.B.VI

The Deliciae Naturae Selectae oder auserlesenes Naturalien-Cabinet (Selected Cabinet of Objects from Nature) was first published in 1751 in German, showing a collection of samples from famous German ‘Naturalien’ cabinets, i.e. C. J. Trew, J. A. Beurer, P.L. Müller, D. Stedeling, A.M. Schadeloock, D. de Hagen, D. Rudolph, and J.P. Breyn(e). The 91 magnificent hand-colored plates stand out for their brightness, delicacy and vibrant coloring and depict zoological subjects and metals as follows: corals and seaweeds (15 plates), shells (7), butterflies (6), sea urchins (4), metals and sea anemones (6), crustaceans and spiders (7), starfishes (4), fishes (9), birds (7), mammals (14), reptiles and amphibians (12). The accompanying text is contemplative, anecdotal and unscientific.
The other major work published under the supervision of Knorr's was Vergnügen der Augen und des Gemüths (1757–1773) “Delight of the Eyes and the Mind/Soul”. The title and content of these volumes, exceedingly popular in amateur and aristocratic circles, exemplifies the contemporary aesthetization of zoology, especially the colorful molluscs. This famous work was first published in German and totally devoted to Mollusca in the style of Rumphius (1705). The last five Parts were published after Knorr’s death by his heirs.
The French edition (1760–1773) is titled Les delices des yeux et de l’esprit ou collection générale des différentes espèces de coquillages que la mer renferme (Delight of the eyes and of the mind or general collection of different species of shells, which the ocean holds).

Les Delices des Yeux. Frontispiece. Vol.II

The three editions (German, French, Dutch) of this work share most features. Often cited as a “3 volume” work as it is usually bound in three volumes, each edition was issued in six Parts with no mention of volumes. The presence of an index for each of the two parts makes the division into three volumes reasonable. Each Part (German: Theil; French: Partie; Dutch: Deel) consists of descriptive text and plates. The six Parts each contain 30 hand colored plates. The sixth part contains an additional ten black and white plates.
Knorr plates are often praised for their beauty and color. The delineation of the shells is generally very good and far superior to many other works of the time. Some of the plates are quite striking, especially those showing large shells. The color, as in any hand colored work, varies from copy to copy. In this case it also varies from edition to edition. A few plates in the French edition are poorly colored but this may not be true of all copies of the edition.

Les Delices de Yeux. Vo.II. Tab III

The last important volume on malacology published in the 18th century came out in Italy: this was the Testacea utriusque Siciliae of 1791 by giuseppe saverio Poli (1746-1825), bu the theme of the still life with shells nonetheless retained its appeal in a new artistic climate dominated by the Neoclassical style. Indeed we must not think that the fortune of conchiliomania would die with the advent of modern era: these extravagant artifices of nature continue, in fact to extort their undisputed fascination on contemporary collectors and amateurs, and there is no sign that the passion for shells will decline.

Les Delices des Yeux. Vol.II. TabVII

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