T he chasm of knowledge addressed by the books in The John Golden Library: Book Illustration in the Age of Scientific Discovery is vast. This gilded repository of hard-won human knowledge dates back to the very heart of the age of Enlightenment, between the 17th and 19th centuries, and celebrates the magic and majesty of nature through a historical prism. The dozens of volumes within – lovingly and expertly assembled by renowned collector John Golden – span anatomy to zoology, medicine to botany, biology, dendrology, even lepidoptery. All of life is here.
The Library encapsulates that human craving for knowledge, and reverence for natural history, in an era of progress and industrial advancement. When the world was changing at unprecedented rate, we still peered into the heavens and looked deep into the oceans to discover what lay beneath. Golden had an eye for innovative layout, design and pioneering printing techniques that elevated these tomes to things of real and rare beauty. Each lot is a sensory joy to handle, taking us from simple woodcuts through to the evolution of techniques such as etchings, engravings and counterproof impressions.
An auction of texts from the Library on 22 November features eminent names: John James Audubon, the master bird portraitist, and Pierre-Joseph Redouté, the acclaimed floral painter. And it also includes works by naturalists who are long overdue their reappraisals and appreciation. Testament not only to Golden’s inquisitiveness and diligence in sourcing books, but the unsung authors of the era, are unexpected delights, such as Maria Sibylla Merian, the first European woman to undertake a scientific mission to South America.