An historical fantasy: Flora Capensis

Over the weekend, I read a fascinating article in the Veld & Flora magazine about artist Andrew Putter’s beautiful photographic series Flora Capensis, which celebrates the wealth and diversity of Cape Town’s natural and cultural heritage. I thought I’d share some of Putter’s work with you here, and have found links for you to read more too.

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Hottentots Holland: Flora Capensis 2 , 2008

The Western Cape has an incredible botanical richness, with more species of plants in this region than there are in the entire Northern Hemisphere. It also has a well-documented colonial history, extending back to the 16th C. Less well-documented is the cultural history of the Cape’s indigenous peoples, the Khoekhoe. After coming across the flower paintings of 17th C Dutch painter, Willem van Aelst (see image below), Andrew Putter came up with the idea of creating a series of photographs in this imported visual style, to celebrate the Cape’s indigenous flowers and insects, as well as our cultural artefacts.

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Still Life with Poppies and Roses, 1679

As you can see in the van Aelst painting above, 17thC flower paintings were typically set against a very dark background, and while the flowers are perfect blooms, leaves are often withered. Butterflies and other insects are often included in the arrangement, and on the table below, small objects – like ribbons, watches or seashells – are displayed. Putter followed these stylistic rules, but by replacing European blooms with local fynbos, and elegant vases with indigenous vessels, he wanted to get contemporary viewers to take a second look at our floral – and cultural – heritage.

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Hottentots Holland: Flora Capensis 6, 2008

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Hottentot’s Holland: Flora Capensis 4, 2008

Putter’s account in the Veld & Flora about the logistics of creating and photographing these exquisite arrangements is really fascinating, so if you can get hold of a copy of the June 2009 edition of this magazine, do read it. Get in touch with The Botanical Society to find out how to get your copy. You can also read more about the work at the Michael Stevenson Contemporary website.

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