The Art of Natural Science in Sweden

Foto/bild: Museography © UMUT works 2013

The Art of Natural Science in Sweden: Treasures from Uppsala University

The Uppsala University Museum, Gustavianum, has produced a grand show of treasures from the University’s collections, displayed in Tokyo this spring and summer. The exhibition concerns the interplay between art and science in the 17th and 18th centuries, focusing on three renowned Uppsala figures of the period: Olof Rudbeck, Carl Linnaeus and Carl Peter Thunberg. A fine array of paintings, magnificent books and unique items from the University’s collections, associated with these international science pioneers, is presented.

The exhibition is the result of collaboration between Gustavianum and its Japanese sister institution, the University Museum at the University of Tokyo (UMUT). The objects are on display at the Intermediatheque, UMUT’s beautiful museum venue in the former Tokyo Central Post Office. There, the exhibition was on display from 24 April to 26 August 2018.

In 2018, it was 150 years since Sweden and Japan established their first diplomatic ties, and the exhibition is among the events that was held to mark this anniversary. Its opening ceremony took place on 23 April, in the presence of the King and Queen of Sweden and Japan’s Imperial Couple. Uppsala University was represented at the opening by, among others, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg.

Art and science in the University’s collections: what the exhibition contains

Foto/bild: Museography © UMUT works 2013

In the course of the 18th century, close ties between art and science emerged. The new systematic science that was taking shape stemmed from detailed observations and accurate depictions of plants and animals. Efforts to understand and describe nature fused art and science in exquisite images of flowers, butterflies and birds. With beauty and precision combined, natural phenomena were captured in numerous drawings, watercolours and engravings. The scientists thus needed the artists for their work, and new networks developed in the borderland between science and art. Various projects were devised in which research intertwined with image creation: scientists and artists worked together or the scientists, exploring the natural environment or gazing down through their microscopes, themselves became artists. The purpose of the exhibition is, from a Swedish perspective, to tell visitors about the blossoming of science that occurred in the period 1670–1800.

      ©︎ Gustavianum / Mikael Wallerstedt

The exhibition revolves around three eminent Swedish scientists from this era — Olof Rudbeck the Elder, Carl Linnaeus and Carl Peter Thunberg. Together, in Uppsala, they and their colleagues formed a chain of scientific continuity more than a century long. A particular focus is on the Linnaeus ‘disciple’ Thunberg, who spent 15 months in Japan in 1775–1776. His Japanese botanical compendium Flora Japonica (published in 1784) was followed by a series of writings about Japan’s nature and culture. Thunberg’s collections of Japanese plants and natural objects, his illustrated works that were published and his correspondence with people he had met in the Japanese cities Nagasaki and Edo show how, in the early 18th century, scientific links between Japan and Sweden were already being forged. By highlighting these historical connections, the exhibition contributes to the celebration of 150 years’ diplomatic ties between our two countries.

Produced by Gustavianum in collaboration with UMUT, the exhibition contains a total of some 70 carefully selected, unique items that tell the story of this scientific golden age. The portraits and other pictures, illustrated books, engravings, watercolours and scientific instruments are on loan from Gustavianum, Uppsala University Library, the Linnaeus Museum, Linnaeus’s Hammarby and the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University. Also included are various Japanese items on loan from the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. Thunberg acquired these in the 1770s, during his stay in Japan, and brought them home to Sweden.

    ©︎ Gustavianum / Mikael Wallerstedt

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavish and copiously illustrated catalogue with essays by outstanding Swedish researchers. After a foreword by His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf, Professor Emeritus Gunnar Eriksson presents Olof Rudbeck’s multifaceted life story. Carl Linnaeus’s journeys, network of contacts, life and work in Uppsala and international renown are covered by Professor Emeritus Gunnar Broberg; and Thunberg’s experience in and description of faraway Japan are the subject of an essay by Professor Emerita Marie-Christine Skuncke.

The exhibition was on display at Intermediatheque, the University Museum, the University of Tokyo (UMUT), from 24 April to 26 August 2018.

Address: Intermediatheque, the University Museum, the University of Tokyo, JP Tower 3F, 2-7-2 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.