Saturday, May 11, 2013

Besler's Iris

When I’m working on a sculpture project it seems to help me if I imagine some story or theme related to the ironwork.  In this case, a delightful couple from Louisiana wanted a depiction of “Iris” which could be displayed on the wall in a given space.

First,  there were some technical decisions to be made.  I decided to concentrate on the German bearded rhizomatous plant variety as it is the one we see most commonly.  Next, I decided to create elements which were close to life size and representational and I chose the space orientation and decided to avoid framing to let the flowers “live free.”  

With those guidelines I did some image research looking to see how other artists, sculptors, painters, photographers and scientific illustrators had rendered their subjects.  Although Vincent van Gogh’s “Irises” immediately came to mind, I specifically was recalling some images of the scientific illustration type I had once seen.  What I discovered that looked familiar were images recorded by Basilius Besler.

“His work, “Hortus Eystettensis” (Garden of Eichstätt), is man’s earliest documentation of a specific garden and over 1,000 varieties of flowers were depicted in 367 exquisitely engraved and colored plates. In the early 1600s, the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt in Germany created what was probably the first comprehensive botanical garden devoted to flowering plants.”  A quote from

That extraordinary work set a new standard for scientific illustration and it seemed to point me to the rest of my challenge.  I have forged and fabricated iris from my earliest blacksmithing days.  The entrance to my home still displays an iris hand rail and an iris wall sconce.  They are no longer representative of what I think of as good work but they are a reminder of where I began. Now I wanted to rethink iris in iron and try to achieve a new artistic interpretation.

I began by studying some flowering plant botany again and then specifically iris pollination.  Sometimes I think I forget that flowers are all about reproduction of the species and it is a happy coincidence that they are so visually appealing to us human beings.  Iris need to attract insect pollinators.
The iris flower is of interest as an example of the relation between flowering plants and pollinating insects. The shape of the flower and the position of the pollen-receiving and stigmatic surfaces on the outer petals form a landing-stage for a flying insect, which in probing for nectar, will first come into contact with the perianth, then with the stigmatic stamens in one whorled surface which is borne on an ovary formed of three carpels. The shelf-like transverse projection on the inner whorled underside of the stamens is beneath the overarching style arm below the stigma, so that the insect comes in contact with its pollen-covered surface only after passing the stigma; in backing out of the flower it will come in contact only with the non-receptive lower face of the stigma. Thus, an insect bearing pollen from one flower will, in entering a second, deposit the pollen on the stigma; in backing out of a flower, the pollen which it bears will not be rubbed off on the stigma of the same flower.” A quote from

So in the final formulation of the plan for my new iris motif I would try to represent the reproductive anatomy more attentively and in overall form imitate the scientific illustration style of Besler.  The final note to this story is that 2013 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of “Hortus Eystettensis” so this piece I consider a tribute to Besler - “Besler’s Iris”.

The owners sent me a photo of the iris in their home.

Some of Besler’s other illustrations can be seen here:

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