The University of Florida’s Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art has acquired five hand-painted chromolithographs by Jean Théodore Descourtilz (Brazil, c. 1796-1855) from his “Ornithologie brésilienne ou Histoire des Ooiseaux du Brésil” (London: Thomas Reeves, 1852-1856). This website is the result of a collaboration between three graduate students enrolled in a Tropical Wildlife Ecology course at the University of Florida and the Harn Museum of Art to compile detailed information about the bird and plant species depicted in the chromolithographs.
The Study of Science through the Study of the Arts
Participation within this course project required a unique interplay as it incorporated the disciplines of art and science. We had to immerse ourselves in the artistic aspects embedded within the discipline of ornithology to complete this project. It was a valuable experience, particularly in a class concerned with biological science. This project involved the identification of avian species and associated flora and an overview of Brazilian ornithology along with the history of the artist of these original plates: Jean-Théodore Descourtilz. By moving outside the classroom and into the art museum, research involved an experiential process of informal and non-formal educational. We engaged with the course material outside of the classroom setting and conducted independent research on the various aspects of the project. In addition, we were able to confer the identifications made in the plates with numerous resources depicting renditions of avian and flora species. We were able to address questions of biological validity, accuracy of initial identifications, and habitat appropriateness. This project synthesized the aesthetic beauty of biological science and concretized the fact that while so much is known about the flora and fauna of tropical forests, there is still so much to learn. Even with these original prints, we are still left with questions that may never be answered. In doing this course project, we gained a greater appreciation of the particular usefulness of art within biological sciences, especially the field of ornithology.