Cover image for Drawn from life : science and art in the portrayal of the New World
Drawn from life : science and art in the portrayal of the New World
Dickenson, Victoria.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Toronto ; Buffalo : University of Toronto Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xvi, 320 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH46.5 .D52 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The use of images as evidence in historical writing has been largely neglected by historians, though recent interest in the importance of visualization in scientific literature has led to a reappraisal of their value. In Drawn from Life, Victoria Dickenson uncovers a vast pictorial tradition of 'scientific illustration' that reveals how artists and writers, from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century portrayed the natural history and landscape of North America to European readers.

Dickenson undertakes a close reading of the images created by European artists, most of whom had never seen North America, and unravels the threads that linked the images to the curiosities and specimens that reached the Old World. Drawing on a wide range of illustrations - woodblock prints, engravings, watercolours, and maps - she examines several important issues regarding the nature of imagery: the tension between naturalistic representation and stylistic conventionalism; the role of the medium used in creating the image (especially the rise of printmaking); the historically changing function of images; and the need to consider historical context in 'reading' such pictures.

While many contemporary artists claimed that their work was 'drawn from life,' their images were, in fact, also works of the imagination. Drawn from Life is an illustrated archaeology of the imagination that allows readers to see North America as Cartier, Champlain, and early naturalists perceived.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Dickenson's study of natural history illustration has clearly grown out of a love for the printed picture. Her study of these old books entails deep analyses of the pictures themselves, not just the accompanying text. The chronology ranges from the European "discovery" of the New World into the 19th century. Focusing on the northern half of North America, especially Canada, she explores not only the customary images of flora and fauna but landscapes as well. She endeavors to extract the meaning and purpose of the images in their original context, rather than to impose present knowledge onto the past. However, she does apply present-day conceptual methodology regarding matters of stylistic convention and naturalistic representation, the relationship between pictures and text, and various contextual issues. She is especially sensitive to the role of media, noting the different expressive qualities of drawings, watercolors, and various printmaking techniques. Importantly, she does so in a clear and concise writing style. This study of the European vision of the New World makes a significant contribution to the burgeoning area of scientific illustration as a branch of the conceptual and material history of science. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. D. Topper University of Winnipeg