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Ben Bullman, Media Technician, The Box

At a time when insects were believed to spring forth magically from mud, waste and plant matter in a process known as ‘spontaneous generation’, one female artist and naturalist was the first to closely observe and record the process of insect metamorphosis. That’s why this is Ben Bullman’s Object of my Affection.

My name’s Ben and I am one of the media technicians here at The Box. My responsibility falls predominantly within the still and moving image departments. So I work a lot with digitisation and cataloging of our fantastic moving image and still image collections. 

The Object of my Affection is this book behind me here, which was a collection of artworks by an artist called Maria Sibylla Merian. Merian was a significant artist back in the 16th century, as she was predominantly working as an entomologist, but then also did botanical drawings. The reason that I think that she’s an incredibly powerful person and the reason that this book is The Object of my Affection is back in the 16th century, she took decision to travel with her oldest daughter to Latin America, to document the life cycle of caterpillars and butterflies.

While she was over there, she discovered hundreds of new species of insects and was a very significant scientist and artist of her time. She’s now kind of known as ‘the mother of entomology’. 

It documents the entire life cycle of the insect in question, and also the plants on which they lived and on which they fed. One of the other things that is quite significant is when she returned with the works behind me, Studies of Suriname, scholars were using her works and discussing them behind the closed doors, but she was never invited to those discussions and she never was given the opportunity to defend the criticisms.

This book is part of The Box’s Cottonian Collection. The Cottonian Collection is a significant part of Plymouth history, as it’s actually written into Parliament that this collection should be made publicly available to every citizen of the city at all time. The Cottonian Collection houses, a wide variety of prints and studies from different artists and is an incredibly vast collection. 

We’re very lucky to have Merian’s works here as they are incredibly sought after in this day and age. One of the other people that house, one of her books is the Royal collection at the moment.

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