On Saturday 19 November the Zeeuws Museum celebrated the opening of an exhibition about the life’s work of Johannes Goedaert (1617-1668). Born 400 years ago in Zeeland, Goedaert was not only a skilled painter but also an entomologist avant la lettre.
Artist and guest curator Sophie Krier has long been interested in Goedaert’s marriage of art and science. With an eye for the here and now, she guides us through his detailed prints, animated descriptions and irrepressible enthusiasm for new discoveries.
While Goedaert was a proficient painter, he became a master in the close observation of the lifecycles of flies, maggots, caterpillars and beetles. Each stage of development – from egg via caterpillar and chrysalis to butterfly – fascinated him. Goedaert spent thirty-three years studying, drawing and describing the weird and wonderful world of insects. At the end of his life, he recorded his discoveries in his three-volume publication Metamorphosis Naturalis, which contains the earliest descriptions and images of more than a hundred insect species found in Zeeland and the Netherlands. Goedaert’s work laid the basis for what would later become a distinct academic discipline: entomology.
Goedaert’s three-volume study Metamorphosis Naturalis would never have seen the light of day without patience, faith and support. Friends convinced him to publish his discoveries, but he was well aware of the value of his work. The book’s subtitle reads: …discovered and described not from books but only from personal experience and drawn after nature. The first volume was an instant bestseller upon its release in 1660.
In a time in which knowledge is available at the click of a mouse, Goedaert reminds us of the importance of repeated observation, questioning and devoting our attention to seemingly insignificant or even lowly subjects. Conducting our own research, cultivating patience and daring to defer judgement can lead us to new insights and truths. This exhibition is thus primarily about the pleasure of looking closely, in the spirit of Goedaert!