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The Visual University

A Conversation with the Bolus Collection: Science, sensibility, sensuality

The University of Cape Town's Botany Department marked this centenary with a scientific exhibition, focusing on the botanical importance and the methodology behind the Bolus Herbarium. This exhibition, housed in the Botany Building on Upper Campus, was accompanied by a series of lectures.

In September 2011, The Michaelis Upper Gallery hosted an intimate exhibition, considering the aesthetic merit of the wider Bolus collections. Billed as 'a conversation', this exhibition incorporated a selection of contemporary artworks to play off manuscripts, art and objects from the Bolus collections. The subtitle 'Science, sensibility, sensuality' suggests three ways of seeing which were reflected in the exhibition: the scientific gaze of collecting, taxonomy and recording; the sensibility of minute observations required by botanical artists; and sensuality/ sexuality which often is often reflected through the symbolism of flowers.

The exhibition considered these three ways of seeing not only in relation to botanical studies, but also in non-botanical objects from the Bolus Collections. This allowed for the inclusion of noteworthy artworks, as well as reflect more broadly on the character of this amateur scientist, his context, and, especially, the scientific endeavour of 'capturing the world'.

A focus-piece was The Gates of Heaven Shall be Opened, a Pre-Raphealite painting by Arthur Hughes This remarkable piece, purchased by a public subscription organized by Harry Bolus, speaks about a typically Victorian urge for sensual (in this case religious) excess. The Gates of Heaven shall be Opened is one of the most valuable pieces in UCT art collections. It forms a remarkable contrast to scientific engravings such as the very early woodcut of a Haemanthus Coccineus by Justus Heurnius, included in the exhibition as published in De Historia Plantarum (1641).

A work by Arthur Hughes Tracy Payne – Sacred Yin
Bolus Exhibition
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