The history of the Brazilian illustration
and the place occupied by Maria Werneck de Castro

by Delfina de Araujo

The history of the Brazilian illustration has, practically, started with Maurice Nassau's arrival, in the 17th century. By this time, explorers and pioneers used to have in their expeditions naturalists and drawers for documenting the exuberant tropical flora which greatly attracted them. Those visitants were always astonished with the great diversity of the species and the smaller number of individuals contrarily to the temperate regions where the number of species is small but the number of individuals is big. This difference, still today, arises the admiration of the scientists and illustrators who visit us, making them to register in such a passionate manner what they see here.

Until the 19th century, practically only two foreigners people, Eckhout and Marcgraff, both brought by Maurice Nassau, succeeded in doing some works in this area, in our lands.

Although he was not a botanical illustrator, the painter Albert Eckhout left us a legacy of big canvas where he painted the resident people among typical specimens of our fauna and flora. In those canvas, we can notice the maximum of details of the subjects approached, due to his capacity of observation and rigor of his reproduction.

The scientist Georg Marcgraff, graduated in mathematics, astronomy and botany, reproduced with his rustic line-drawings part of our flora.

Due to the fact that the Portuguese people kept foreigners from coming to our lands, probably for strategic reasons, trying to hide the richness of our country, for long time, this kind of register stayed almost restricted to them.

This situation has only been modified when the law of "The opening of the Brazilian Ports to Friend Nations" has been signed, after the Royal Family's coming to Brazil, as this opening also reached the members of scientific class. Since there, a radical transformation occurred and many researchers or hunters made many journeys to the interior of our country registering the details of those expeditions.

With the wedding of the archduchess Leopoldina from Austria with the Prince Pedro d'Alcântara, a great number of researchers coming and the botanist Von Martius took part of this suite. He traveled to many parts of the country, between l817 and l820, covering almost 7.000 km. He published the results of his work in the collection "Flora Braziliensis" The last volumes have been published by Cogniaux, after his death.

Auguste de Saint-Hilaire traveled all over the country between l816 and 1822. All those researches of the Brazilian flora have been richly illustrated however Saint-Hilaire's works were descriptive and elucidating. Unfortunately, many of those illustrations do not have the identification of the author.

We should also distinguish Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira (1756-1815), Brazilian naturalist who participated to "Viagem Filosófica à Amazonas" (Philosophical journey to Amazonas), between 1783 and 1792, whose works have been illustrated by Joaquim José Codina and José Joaquim Freire. Those works are in National Library, Rio de Janeiro.

Another Brazilian scientist, Francisco Freire Alemão Cisneiros (1797-1874), doctor and professor in Botany and Zoology, left watercolors representing the richness of orchidaceae family, he also taught drawing to Barbosa Rodrigues.

Barbosa Rodrigues (l842-l909), Brazilian botanist and Director for 19 years, of the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro and Director of Botanical Museum of Amazons, made many long journeys to do researches "in loco" and prepare his own material of taxonomy. He described many Brazilian species and drew more than 1.000 watercolors about orchids (Those plates have been unpublished for a century and part of them has been recuperated and published in l996). He was specially fond of orchids and Brazilian palms.

Frederico Carlos Hoehne, one of the great botanists Brazil has already have. He left a great work with more than 400 studies about the Brazilian Flora, particularly about orchids. Among those works, we should point out "Flora Brasílica", "Álbum de Orchidáceas Brasileiras" and "Iconografia das Orchidáceas Brasileira"', where he studied and described a myriad of species. His works were greatly illustrated by his own drawings and other illustrators like: Jm. F. Toledo, Margaret Hoehne, Ruth S Carvalho, G. Münch and M.B. Vecchi. Some of those illustrations were done under his orientation and some other were reproduced from former published works and also from the collection of Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro.

The history of the illustration did not stop any more. When we look over this history, we can see the result of the importance of joining the work of the botanist and the illustrator so well emphasized by Maria Werneck de Castro when she said "without the botanist, there is no scientific drawing because only he can determine the veracity of the drawing. He classifies the plant and makes one see the necessity of this or that detail". The illustrator, under the orientation of the botanist, can focus all important points and do a selection of information offering to the drawing the scientific rigor which allows, at the same time, characters of taxonomic significance and the esthetic of an artistic work. Some botanist succeed in joining their condition of scientist to the creative talent of the artist, like Barbosa Rodrigues, Antonio José Landi (19th century) and F. C. Hoehne (20th century).

The creative capacity of the artist joined to the scientific knowledge of the botanists with whom she worked made Maria Werneck's painting getting such level of excellence in artistic point of view as well as scientific one's. She put, graciously, her art at the service of the science. In everything she illustrate, she was greatly worried about obtaining the highest degree of precision and fidelity. In her work, the rigor in the reproduction absolutely accurate of the details of the drawn species was more important than the quantity of reproduced plants. None work reached such richness of details and that is what distinguishes her among the other great illustrators. The recognition of her work by the botanical scientific community, not only national but also international, is mainly due to this rigor and the technical and artistic quality of those drawings which made possible to use them for determining the species drawn.

In spite of her modesty when she says that the most remarkable name is Margaret Mee, we should make an observation. It is not about choosing here who is the better but to do justice. Although she is less known by the great public, the artistic quality of her work and the scientific contents put her, at least, at the same level of the great English illustrator.

Painting and drawing since she was 5 years old, her personality, her passion for every thing she did and her capacity of being always well disposed to transmitter her knowledge, influenced a generation of botanist illustrators such Dulce Nascimento, Cristina Miranda, Paulo Ormindo, Vania Aída, Alexandre Justino, between others. They recognize in their works that influence and declare themselves as her disciples, at least her followers.

Still today, at the age of 93 years, with an unique lucidity and power of reasoning besides her sharp criticism capacity, she does not deny to help everyone who asks for an orientation. Everyone who talks about her, not only points out the technical perfection of her work, but also emphasizes her way of conducting her own life, putting her heart and soul in all things she did, her personality, her capacity of arising emotions and the force which seems to bud from her interior, pours out in the contact with people and crystallizes in her watercolors making the drawing species seem to be alive elements projecting out of the paper.

In spite of the great number of exhibitions she has participated and the recognition obtained by her works from the illustrators here and abroad, she remains unknown to the great public. This is due to two reasons. First of all, Maria Werneck is extremely modest, she does not accept to be called "teacher" even by people she has influenced directly. Second, she considers that her work, as well the work of every botanical illustrator, needs to be recognize because of the scientific contents it can communicate and, as result, it should be put at the disposal of the greater number of researchers and not be for that reason, should remains at the disposal of the researchers and not be hanged in a wall of a home. The main purpose is the scientific documentation, not esthetic reasons. That is why she gave her work to the collection of National Library, Rio de Janeiro, believing that, in this way, more people will have access.

Maria Werneck de Castro did the history of the Brazilian botanical illustration in the second half of our century.