Feasting the Senses

Claudia Swan

Paulus Moreelse. Portrait of a Young Woman, about 1620. Oil on panel. Art Institute of Chicago, Max and Leola Epstein Collection. Photo by Jacques Breuer.

As an art historian specialized in art of the Golden Age, I spend a lot of time thinking about the sense of sight. The exhibition Asia in Amsterdam encourages us, I think, to consider the senses more broadly than is normally the case for the Golden Age. It does so by looking beyond the visual glories of the paragons of Dutch painting Rembrandt and Vermeer, for example, and telling the story of seventeenth-century Dutch culture through objects, of which paintings are ultimately only one sort. Textiles and jewels would have been worn and invoke the sense of touch; the spices the VOC exported from Asia tickled the olfactory sense and the sense of taste, and porcelain plates and cups were used for dining, for example. We are reminded that taste is always more than what meets the eye: the very word “aesthetic” means, in Greek, “of sensation or perception,” and is not necessarily restricted to vision. Read more

Nature Into Art: Uncovering Entomology

Plate 10: Everlasting flower and Castnia from Leningrader Aquarelle / Maria Sibylla Merian, 1974

A quick history lesson shows us how the collections of the Essex County Natural History Society (founded 1833) came to reside in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum today. The ECNH focused on collecting both literature and specimens documenting the natural wonders of Essex County, Massachusetts.  After a short life of 15 years, the ECNH merged with the Essex Historical Society to form the Essex Institute. Read more

#ColorOurCollections at PEM/PM!

You may have seen our previous blog and tweets related to the #ColorOurCollections social media campaign in February.  Well, we’re at it again.  With the recent opening of Asia in Amsterdam, we were struck by how many books and illustrations in the exhibit lent themselves to coloring.  Many of the books printed in the 17th century were illustrated with intricate engravings like those seen below.  Here we’ve included the coloring pages we’ll be bringing to PEM/PM: Nexus on Thursday, April 21st for attendees to color and display.  We’ll also have some 17th Century texts on hand for inspiration.  Can’t come on Thursday?  Print them at home and tweet us your pictures @PEMLibrary with the #ColorOurCollections. Read more