Humboldt Peak, Venezuela.
NEW YORK - What do a small town in Nebraska, a park in Chicago, a University in Berlin, a California county and the second highest mountain peak in Venezuela (after Bolivar Peak, of course) have in common? They share the name of the man represented in a bust across the street from the main entrance of the American Museum of Natural History in New York: Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859).
Starting on April 29, Unity of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt and the Americas, an exhibition curated by Georgia de Havenon and Alicia Lubowski-Jahn will be on view at the Americas Society in New York. The exhibition will summarily revisit the exploits of this Prussian aristocrat turned geologist, cosmologist, adventurer, botanist, linguist and cartographer, the last possible product of an encyclopedic knowledge: the last man who could know everything.
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). German naturalist and geographer. Engraving of A. Neumann in Our Century. © Tarker/Corbis.
In his only American voyage (1799-1804), Humboldt explored the dangerous higher Orinoco basin, was the first to climb the 20,500 feet high Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador to measure its height, sailed from Guayaquil to Acapulco, visited Mexico City right at the time of the unearthing of the stone Aztec calendar and at the end of his American journey was the personal guest of President Jefferson at the White House before returning to Europe with his collection of tens of thousands of natural specimens, drawings and maps that would be the matter of a systematic study and organization. Many years after his return from the tropics, he concluded one of the most important contributions to early 19th century science: following his travels to the Equinoctial Regions, he produced a monumental and comprehensive study of nature in Spanish America.
Frederick Church, Tequendama Falls, near Bogotá.
American painters like Frederick Church and some of his contemporaries, read Humboldt’s accounts and soon embarked to bring back to American audiences the marvels of this new world – the world at the continent´s equator, a unique place on earth where you could see the snowed peaks of volcanoes from the lowlands of the Amazon jungles or the coastal deserts. Church´s monumental masterpiece on this subject Heart of the Andes, 1859, is on permanent display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Unity of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt and the Americas will be open through July 26.