On Being a Botanical Pedant

DACS; (c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationOver New Year I went to the Stanley Spencer exhibition ‘Heaven in a Hell of a War’ at Somerset House and found it extraordinarily beautiful despite the depictions of  both the brutality and banality of war.  I would recommend that anyone who is in London makes the time to visit it – it’s on until January 26th and admission is free.  But – here is where the pedantry comes in – as a gardener I always make a point of examining the botanical content of paintings very closely – there’s many a Madonna that gets overlooked as I focus on the detail of the flowery mead at her feet, and portraits of noblemen and women take second place to the views of their gardens that form the background.  In the Stanley Spencer exhibition there were two wrongly identified plants  – a  beautiful vibrant portrait of Papaver orientale was labelled as Papaver rhoeas. P.rhoeas is the field poppy, symbol of fallen soldiers, while the oriental poppy is a blowsy, gorgeous border flower and oddly out of place in this exhibition.

Then there was a painting called the ‘Map Reading’ where the label describes the soldiers in the background gathering bilberries, when they are blackberries.Detail from Map-reading by Stanley Spencer at Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, Hampshire.I find myself struggling between telling myself to get a grip and just absorb the impact of the paintings and irritation that no one involved in mounting the exhibition has checked these details.  If they have got these things wrong are there other mistakes as well?  Rant over – Happy New Year.

3 Responses to On Being a Botanical Pedant

  1. I am planning on seeing this exhibition next week. This is not pedantry, it is just the sort of sloppiness that annoys me. I am so glad that I am not the only one who gets fixated on studying the flowers in paintings.

  2. Stephanie Donaldson

    Thank you Chloris – nice to know I’m not alone in my foibles!

  3. I agree with Chloris. This is careful observation, not pedantry. So while I don’t fixate on studying the flowers in paintings, I’m glad someone else does!

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