May 2016

     The month of May was typically celebrated in the Italian Renaissance by the ideals represented in Botticelli's Trilogy, the most popular, "Primavera," c. 1478. This work specifically highlighted the rite of marriage and the biological coming of age for young men and women. Like many other poets and artists of the period, Botticelli paid special attention to detail and ritual. In this painting dance meant much more than the lightness and happiness associated with springtime.

      The essence rebirth of Classical text and discovery of observational science is particularly strong in this painting due to an allusion to ancient encyclopaedias developed by, for instance, Pedanius, or Theophrastus, a Classical botanist who lived in 371–287 B.C. His Historia plantarum was an incunabulum. By the Renaissance, 1483, the printer Confalonieri published a new Historia plantarum in Treviso; it coincided with this painting's production, contemporary to works of a Renaissance artist from the North who showed similar interests in re-producing nature.

     The painting's subject matter, botany and healing, leads to interesting topics for teaching and learning in the discovery of sciences in the Renaissance; it is ideal for the elementary student mastering key skills in objective the scientific experiment process of observation, cataloguing, labelling, and sketching. Discussions and activities based on botany and its ancient uses are essential for the student set on pursuing a career in botanical science, medicine, or pharmaceutical industry. Da Vinci, Durer, Gesner, Harvey, and Coiter are good examples of scientists and artists who specialized in observing and forming theories about certain traits of nature.

     Learning activities can range from simple, such as observing the process of plant growing from seed to bud, to more complex, such as grouping and graphing different types of plants into categories, and abstract, as photosynthesis, phototropism, or phytoremediation. Our approach puts emphasis on the Classical method of sketching and labelling so that students can illustrate and compile their own catalogues, and use the information to incorporate them into larger works of art or science. 

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