The folios of large botanical lithographs held by the museum are educational tools, part of set entitled ‘Botanische Wandtafeln’. They are associated with Carl Ignaz Leopold Kny (1841-1916), who was a German botanist and Professor of Plant Physiology at the University of Berlin. These wall charts were historically European (specifically German) phenomena, which originated with Kny’s idea of displaying them in classroom lecture halls.
The educational utility of the Botanische Wandtafeln arose as a result of rising class sizes, which in mid nineteenth-century Germany could be well over one hundred students. The importance of the visual in German education was another factor. Thoughts on this subject were strongly influenced by the ideas of Heinrich Pestalozzi (1766-1827). Pestalozzi theorised that children learn by transforming vague sense impressions (or Anschauung) into distinctive ideas. It was therefore important that pupils should see or handle objects, instead of merely hearing about them.
The Botanische Wandtafeln were published between 1875 and 1911, numbering one hundred and twenty plates in all and were accompanied by a 554-page textbook by Kny of the same name. Two printmakers and more than ten artists were associated with their production, which was made possible by the German development of lithography on an industrial scale by the Englemann workshops from 1816. While the production costs of colour prints fell, the Botanische Wandtafeln set was by no means cheap, selling for the sum of one hundred and fifteen dollars in 1911.
The charts depict the anatomical and morphological details of plants in impressive detail. As with our pathological illustrations by Ethel M. Wright, this botanical illustrations are wonderful displays of artistic talent alongside scientific knowledge. Illustrated topics include cell structure and development, insectivorous plants, fern and bryophyte structure and algal fertilisation. Kny, dissatisfied with the existing botanical literature, conducted original research on several topics to properly prepare the charts. The folios held by the museum are unusual, the charts usually being rolled up for storage. Many of the charts are coloured, though a number are in black and white. The Botanische Wandtafeln is considered to be a famed exemplar of Victorian era and pre-1914 Germanic science.
Bucchi, Massimiano, ‘Images of Science in the Classroom: Wall Charts and Scientific Education, 1850-1920, in Luc Pauwels, Visual Cultures of Science: Rethinking Representational Practices in Knowledge Building and Science Communication, University Press of New England: Hanover, 2006, pp. 90-119.
Edmonds, Jennifer M. ‘The University of Leeds Natural History Collections – Part 1’, The Biology Curator (1999), 14, pp. 3-10.
Schmid, Rudolf, ‘Wall Charts (Wandtafeln). Remembrance of Things Past’, Taxon (1990), 39, pp. 471-472.
Schmid, Rudolf, ‘The Phenomenon of Botanical Wall Charts (Botanische Wandtafeln) from 1874 to 1914’, American Journal of Botany (1985), 72, pp. 879-880.