What a Century!

Ref. In the Spirit of Linnaeus: The Tercentenary Lectures on Science and Art, by Mariano Akerman, Manila and Taytay, Philippines, 2007

Linnaeus and the Age of Reason

Linnaeus lived in the eighteenth century. He developed his work in a period of time that falls between Hogarth’s Inhabitants of the Moon, a 1700 print mocking the socio-political order of the day, and the launching of the first balloon by the Montgolfière brothers in 1783.

Almost everything that distinguishes the modern Western world from earlier centuries—industrialized production, bureaucratized government, the new conceptions that science introduced into philosophy, the whole climate of thought and opinion—overlapped during the eighteenth century with the old political and social order, the ancien régime.

It was the last period in which it was widely believed that "kings are by God appointed," the first in which it could be claimed as "self-evident" that (in the words of the American Declaration of Independence, 1776) "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

The incompatibility of these claims with traditional systems of monarchic or oligarchic government was not shown up until the last decade of the century, when the French Revolution gave a new meaning to the ideas of “liberty, equality and fraternity.”

While the middle class encouraged new ideas and financed technological advances, the thinkers of the Enlightenment fostered the ideas of Reason and Freedom.

Because of the brilliance of its thinkers the whole century was actually an intellectual turning point, aptly known as the Age of Reason.

Here are their ideas:

1) "One can fool some men, or fool all men in some places and times, but one cannot fool all men in all places and ages” (Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, 1754, vol. 4).

2) “If we don’t find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new" (Voltaire, Candide, 1759, ch. 17: « Si nous ne trouvons pas des choses agréables, nous trouverons du moins des choses nouvelles »).

3) "Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains" (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du contract social, 1762, bk. 1, ch. 1: « L’homme est né libre, et partout il es dans les fers »).

4) "Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man. He forces one soil to nourish the products of another, one tree to bear the fruit of another. He mixes and confuses the climates, the elements, the seasons. He mutilates his dog, his horse, his slave. He turns everything upside down: he disfigures everything; he loves deformity, monsters. He wants nothing as nature made it, not even man; for him, man must be trained like as school horse; man must be fashioned in keeping with his fancy like a tree in his garden" (Rousseau, Émile ou de l’éducation, 1762, bk. 1)

5) "In this world we run the risk of having to choose between being the anvil or the hammer" (Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764: “Tyranny”).

6) "Common sense is not so common” (Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1765 : "Common Sense." His original words are: « Le sens commun est fort rare »).

The Enlightenment radiated out of the philosophical and scientific thought of the seventeenth century, especially that of Descartes, of John Locke, who propounded a philosophy based on empirical observation and common sense, and of Isaac Newton, who provided a rational explanation of the laws determining and working of the universe.

Despite many and profound differences, the leaders of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment shared a faith in the power of the human mind to solve every problem. They believe in human perfectibility and in the possibility of human omniscience. And in this optimistic belief all physical phenomena were studied and categorized and all aspects of human behavior were scrutinized from a strictly rational viewpoint—political systems, social customs, religious practices. Everything that seemed to them worth knowing was ordered and encapsulated in the great French encyclopedia (1751-72).

It aimed to survey knowledge according to rational philosophical principles. "Dare to know! Have the courage to use your understanding; this is the motto of the Enlightenment," the German philosopher Immanuel Kant declared in 1784.

Science seemed to make the universe more, rather than less, mysterious.

Newton’s mechanistic conception of creation—an orderly system set in motion by "a divine clock-maker"—gave way to one that was organic. This was epitomized by Linnaeus’ classification of the natural species.

Distinguishing from his predecessor’s myths and inaccuracies, Linnaeus’s new scientific attitude was based on observation and empiricism.

As the most famous Swedish biologist of all times put it in his Philosophia botanica of 1751: "In the natural sciences, the principles of truth are to be confirmed by observation."

Eighteenth-century Europe was capitalist, mercantilist, and expansionist. Distinctive of the Age of Reason, le voyage autour du monde or trip around the globe was a reflection of a new interest in the world. Many were eager to participate in these explorations and Linnaeus encouraged quite a number of his students to travel around the world, searching new species to be recorded, named and classified.

Observation, journeys and publications led to a change in people’s awareness of the world they lived in.

In changing people's awareness of the world they lived in, invaluable was Linnaeus’ contribution.

Linnaeus was the Father of Modern Biology.

Carl Linnaeus’ science marked a fundamental victory of reason over caprice and preconception.

CARL VON LINNÉ. Carolus Linnaeus, 1707-1778. Carl Linnaeus. The Eighteenth Century. Age of Reason. Enlightenment. Europe. Sweden. Science and Art. Education. Idea, research and design: Mariano Akerman © 2007 All Rights Reserved

Initially published as "What a Century!", Manila, 19.1.2007

Original Post Illustrations
1 Mariano Akerman, The Eighteenth Century, digital image, 2007
2 Eighteenth-century prints showing the Inhabitants of the Moon, a mature Carl Linnaeus, and the launching of La Montgolfière in Paris, six years before the French Revolution
3 Fra Andrea Pozzo, Europe, fresco, Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola, Rome, early eighteenth century
4 Nature, eighteenth-century allegorical image
5 Mariano Akerman, Just a Moment before the French Revolution, pencil and ink, 1989. Present whereabouts unknown.
6 Mariano Akerman, The Age of Reason, digital photo-collage, 2007
7 Mariano Akerman, Artifice vs. Nature, digital contrast, 2007
8 Etienne-Louis Boullée, Design for Monument to Isaac Newton, ink and wash drawing, 1784 (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). Désert de Retz, Chambourcy, wash design for a broken column residence, c. 1785 (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm)
9 D’Alembert, L’Encyclopédie, Diderot
10 Linnea borealis, reindeers, Linnaeus as Laplander
11 Plate showing Linnaeus’ Sexual System of Botanical Classification of 1735
12 Linnaeus portrayed holding a Linnaea borealis and his monumental Systema Naturae, first published in 1735
13 An illustration from Olaus Magnus’ Historia of 1555, showing a gigantic lobster attacking an unfortunate sailor.
14 Linnaeus’ descriptive notes and a page from his herbarium (with a plant named "Veronica")
15 Journeys of Linnaeus seventeen disciples across the world
16 Joseph Wright, Experiment with the Air-pump, oil, 1768 (Tate Gallery, London)
17 The launching of La Montgolfière, Paris, 1783 (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)
18 Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Joseph Baretti, 1774; Jean-Honoré Fragonard, A Young Girl Reading, 1776 (Prado, Madrid)
19 Linnaeus’ notebook and other belongings he used during his Lapland exploration
20 Linnaeus’ Musa paradisica and the title page of his Hortus Clifortianus of 1737
21 Some assorted books published by Linnaeus during the eighteenth century
22 A Tribute to Carl Linnaeus
23 Mariano Akerman, Caprice vs. Reason, digital contrast, 2007
24 Akerman, Homage to the French Revolution, digital image, 2005
25 Akerman, Curly Sky, digital image, 2005
26 Akerman, Temple of Inclusion, digital image, 2005
27 Akerman, In the Spirit of Linnaeus, digital composition, 2006

Slides from In the Spirit of Linnaeus, educational lectures, Manila 2007

CARL VON LINNÉ. Carolus Linnaeus, 1707-1778. Carl Linnaeus. The Eighteenth Century. Age of Reason. Enlightenment. Europe. Sweden. Science and Art. Education. Idea, research and design: Mariano Akerman © 2007 All Rights Reserved

Online resources
Linnaeus-Manila Program
In the Spirit of Linnaeus
Rara avis
Kingdom and Ecology
The Same Order
El mismo orden

Belgian Spices

To Celebrate Friendship and Cultural Diversity
Art-Appreciation Lectures on Belgian Art, by Mariano Akerman

Discovering Belgian Art
Invitation to lectures by Mariano Akerman

1. The Marvel of Belgian Art and Its Diversity
2. Belgian Art: Reality and Fantasy
3. Tradition and Innovation in the Visual Arts of Belgium

Joris Hoefnagel
Detail from Mira calligraphiae monumenta, c. 1591, fol. 143v

René Magritte

Vanitas Still Life




Allegory of Painting, Brussels

Jan van Eyck

Rogier de la Pasture

Hieronymous Bosch

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Peter-Paul Rubens

Joris Hoefnagel

Antoine Wiertz

Constantin Meunier

Armand de Beul

Georges Lemmen

James Ensor

Léon Spillaert

René Magritte

Belgian Species is a digital set created by Mariano Akerman.

Mariano Akerman, Belgian Species, 2009
1. Mosaic

2. Fine Arts Museum

3. Tesselation Game

4. Lecture

5. Mega Exhibition

6. Petite Encyclopédie Belge, p. 325

7. Art Show

8. Puzzle

9. Biennale

10. Street Mural

Artists whose work has been included in the Belgian Spices Composition, fig. 1: René Magritte, Rogier de la Pasture, Joris Hoefnagel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Léon Spilliaert, Georges Lemmen, Armand de Beul, Hendrik Goltzius, Jan van Eyck, Fernand Khnopff, James Ensor, David Teniers the Younger, Philippe Wolfers, Jean-Michel Folon.

Artworks: The Grand Family (Magritte), Portrait of a Young Lady (De la Pasture, c. 1430-45), Tulips and Other Living Beings (Hoefnagel, 1591), The Natural Graces (Magritte, 1963), Big Fish ate Little Fish (Brueghel, 1556), Vertigo (Spilliaert, 1908), Sunset (Lemmen, 1891), The Flavor of Tears (Magritte, 1948), Picking Up Potatoes (De Beul), Portrait of Charles the Bold (De la Pasture, 1460), Monkey on a Chain (Goltzius, 1597), This is Not an Apple (Magritte, 1964), Self-Portrait with Red Turban (Van Eyck, 1433), My Heart weeps for the Past (Khnopff, 1889), Clairvoyance (Magritte, 1936), The Tavern (Teniers, 1658), Skeletons fighting over a Smoked Herring (Ensor, 1891), Dragonfly (Wolfers, 1900), Yes to Peace (Folon).

Hoefnagel meets Magritte
Comparison by Mariano Akerman
First presented in "Discovering Belgian Art", Alliance Francaise de Karachi, Pakistan, 2009

Belgian Art - Art Belge - Belgische Kunst - Arte Belga. Among the achievements of the Belgian artists are the invention of the oil painting technique, the fostering of remarkable pictorial styles and a whole questioning of the notion of "reality" as such. Art Historian Mariano Akerman reveals the singularity and originality of a select group of Belgian masterpieces. He examines their style and meanings, historical context, aesthetic qualities and raison d'etre, appreciating them from unexpected, innovative perspectives.

Initially published 5.7.2008. Ref. : lectures, culture, education, reality, mimesis, fantasy, belgium, europe, fine art, design, visual arts


Impromptu: The World in a Collage

Mariano Akerman
Técnica mixta | Mixed media | Technique mixte, 20 x 24.2 cm
• Dühring-Patel Collection, Berlin

An Inner Constellation relating to the dynamic nature of impulse, Impromptu was first a relatively simple automatism. Only later it became more elaborate and symbolic.

In its revised version, Impromptu features a central motif, whose origin can be traced back to a Map of the World depicted by Heinrich Bünting in the late sixteenth century. That Map presents a clover-shaped world, with Jerusalem at the center. There, Europe, Asia and Africa converge. Jerusalem becomes thus the center of the world and the Holy City of the three continents.

Heinrich Bünting (Buenting/Bunting, 1545-1606), Map of the World as a Clover (Die Welt als Kleberblat), woodcut from Itinerarium sacra scripturae, Magdeburg, 1581. National Library, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In Bünting's Map, the world is symbolically represented by a three-leafed clover, which not accidentally was also symbolic of that cartographer’s birthplace, Hannover.
Initially, the Map of the World was a black-and-white print (woodcut). Its later version involved the application of color and the differentiation of the continents via the use of distinct pigments.

After Heinrich Bünting, Map of the World or Cloverleaf Map (from Itinerarium Sacra Scripturae), color engraving, 1588. Mappa Mundi, Knokke.

It is noteworthy that in such versions of the German Map the American continent is marginal and remains excluded from the central three-leafed motif, i.e. disconnected from the center of the world.
Curiously enough, other important areas of the world are depicted in analogous terms (when not obliterated altogether). The insular aspect of England, for instance, is geographically justifiable, but that of Denmark and Sweden rendered as a single territorial mass, disconnected from the European continent and notably amputated, is ethically objectionable.

Mariano Akerman, Impromptu (revised state), Manila, July 2007. Crayon, watercolor and collage, 20 x 24.2 cm. Duehring-Patel Collection, Berlin

In 2001, Impromptu was a closed composition. Only in 2007, with the artist’s desire of associating this image to Bünting’s Map, it became an open design. To achieve such an association in a direct way, the format of Impromptu was to be changed and Jerusalem had to become its real center. Such requirements led to the suppression of part of the original composition. Yet, the initial appearance of Impromptu, its original format and composition, have been preserved in a photograph taken when the work was still in progress.

As Einstein once put it, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. But imagination encircles the world."

Impromptu, picture, comments and layout by Mariano Akerman © Copyright 2007 Akermariano. All rights reserved.

Patel's poem "Born to Marvel" is worth to be included here, for it is consonant with Impromptu. I think of Patel's work as a little eternity and a great poem:

How wondrous this Earth
And the silvers speckled sky
In the limitless expanse of space,
Whose hands, whose power,
Whose wish, whose grace
Propels this worldly vessel
From a place unknown
To an unknown place?
Should I so dare,
As dare ask why,
Dare ask where? No!
I was born but to marvel
I know, with my life
In my Maker’s care.

Ronnie Patel, Island Poems, Calcutta: Lotus, 2001, p. 7
© Ronnie Patel

Initially published in Manila, 7.7.2007



Nopal cactus. Opunita ficus-indica

Inquieta e intensa mi madre
Por fuera palabras de espina
Por dentro todo dulzor
Su intermitente contraste
Conlleva mil y un actos de amor.

Restless and intense my mother
Prickly words outside
Entirely sweet inside
Her intermittent contrast
Entails one thousand and one acts of love.

Inquiète et intense ma mère
Dehors mots d’épine
Dedans toute douceur
Son intermittent contraste
Entraîne mille et un actes d’amour.

"Genetrix" © 2004-2007 Mariano Akerman
Todos los derechos reservados | All rights reserved | Tous droits réserves

Genetrix (planta-ancla), 2004
Acuarela, crayon y bolígrafo sobre papel
Watercolor, crayon and pen on paper
Aquarelle, crayon et encre sur papier

Texto e imágenes originalmente publicados en Manila, 3.6.2007