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Margaret Mee and the Tradition of Botanical Representation

Founders’ Room
April 10, 2020
03:00 PM to 04:00 PM
Fully Booked
POSTPONED | This illustrated talk situates Margaret Mee within a tradition of botanical illustration going back to the early modern period and addresses the distinctive qualities of Mee’s art.

Out of an abundance of caution in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Dumbarton Oaks will cancel all public events through the end of May.

The long tradition of plant representation combines the resources of art and science. While botanical art has been associated with aesthetic pleasure and botanical illustration with scientific documentation, both media rely on close observation, curiosity, and mastery of technique. This illustrated talk by exhibition curators Yota Batsaki and Anatole Tchikine situates Mee within a tradition of botanical illustration going back to the early modern period, when art was a powerful tool for capturing, recording, and sharing natural knowledge, and women artists played an important role. The talk also addresses the distinctive qualities of Mee’s art: her ability to capture the moment of intimate encounter with the plant as a living organism, eliciting our close looking, reflection, and admiration for the natural world.

Yota Batsaki is Executive Director at Dumbarton Oaks. Since joining Dumbarton Oaks in 2011, she has developed the research institute’s capacity in the areas of human resources, strategic planning and organizational development, communications and outreach, and partnership building. She supports the institute’s academic programs, including a new program of skill-building fellowships for early career humanists. Batsaki holds a PhD in comparative literature from Harvard University. Previously, she was a Fellow and Director of Studies in English at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and a Newton Trust Lecturer in the English Faculty, University of Cambridge. Her research interests lie in Enlightenment political economy and literature, especially the concept of self-interest; the cultural history of plants in the modern period; and the movement of people, objects, and ideas in the eastern Mediterranean. She has published essays on eighteenth-century literature and culture and has coedited three volumes: The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century, with Sarah Burke Cahalan and Anatole Tchikine (Dumbarton Oaks, 2016); Imperial Geographies in Byzantine and Ottoman Space, with Sahar Bazzaz and Dimiter Angelov (Center for Hellenic Studies, 2013); and Fictions of Knowledge: Fact, Evidence, Doubt, with Subha Mukherji and Jan-Melissa Schramm (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011). Batsaki has held fellowships at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge. In 2002, she cofounded the Harvard Summer Program in Greece, where she continues to teach.

Anatole Tchikine is Curator of Rare Books at Dumbarton Oaks. Trained as an architecture historian, he works at the intersection of the histories of art, science, technology, and urbanism. One particular focus is the role of water and hydraulic display in Renaissance and Baroque garden design and city planning and the relationship between gardens, plant collecting, and self-fashioning in Medici Tuscany. He has taught at Trinity College Dublin, Rutgers University, and Maryland Institute College of Art, and held fellowships from Dumbarton Oaks and the Medici Archive Project in Florence. He is a co-editor of The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century and editor of the forthcoming Constructing a “Third Nature”: Gardens and Landscapes of the Italian Renaissance.


Margaret Mee: Portraits of Plants

Margaret Mee: Portraits of Plants presents 20 stunning paintings of Amazonian flora by the artist, explorer, and environmentalist Margaret Mee (1909–1988) in the Dumbarton Oaks rare book collection. The exhibition draws on manuscript and print works from the rare book collection to situate Mee within a tradition of women botanical artists and illustrators that stretches back to the seventeenth century. Portraits of Plants also interrogates the enduring interplay between art and science through a variety of media (botanical illustration, watercolor, photography) extending to the present day, with works by contemporary photographer Amy Lamb, scientific illustrator Alice Tangerini, and botanical artist Nirupa Rao.

Margaret Mee, Heliconia, 1964