Dr Anna Marie Roos, F.L.S., will be giving a free public lecture on 19 September 2012 at Convocation House, Bodleian Library, 13.00 – 13.30. The lecture, ” The Art of Science: The Rediscovery of the Lister Copperplates”, celebrates the opening of an exhibition in the Proscholium of the Bodleian Library: “The Art of Seventeenth-Century Science” which will run from 18 August until 30 September.
When the English naturalist and Royal physician Martin Lister (1639-1712) wrote to his wife Hannah in 1681 from France, he explained that he was enclosing a box of colours for his oldest two daughters, 11-year-old Susanna and 9-year-old Anna Lister, to paint with. He also asked Hannah to lock away the precious pencils (brushes) he was sending, “for they know not yet the use of them”. But within a few years, Lister was relying on the adolescent Susanna and Anna to illustrate his scientific works. Scientific illustration in the seventeenth century was a new genre, and artists were unfamiliar with novel instruments, technologies, and creatures. After he experienced disappointments and delays commissioning established artists, Lister decided to teach his daughters the art of science. Lister entrusted Susanna and Anna with illustrating his landmark Historiae Conchyliorum, which was assembled between 1685 and 1692, and which was later cited by Linnaeus and Darwin. This first comprehensive study of conchology consisted of over 1000 copperplates of shells and molluscs that he collected from around the world. The Lister sisters were also amongst the first women to use microscopes to help produce some of their scientific drawings. One of the copperplates engraved by Anna Lister may be the last survivor of those engraved for Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the rest having been surrendered to the nation in World War I.
In 1712, Lister willed the copperplates for the Historiae to the University of Oxford. Several of the original shells that Lister’s daughters sketched have been preserved in the Sloane Collection at the Natural History Museum. The sketchbooks of Lister and his daughters, his relevant correspondence, 1100 copperplates, and several magnificent editions of the Historiae itself are in the collections of the Bodleian Library. The lecture and the exhibit will demonstrate the process of the creation of Lister’s masterwork from alpha to omega, from original shells that Sir Hans Sloane lent Lister and his daughters to sketch, to the drawings themselves, to the plates, and finally the draft and final prints and books (both black-and white and hand-coloured).