Archetype and Transformation. Natural Models and the Paradox of Artistic Naturalness

The archive of the University of the Arts Berlin (UdK) contains, in the collection of Karl Blossfeldt, an extremely valuable stock of images of nature from the first third of the 20th century. Until 1930 Blossfeldt gave lessons on the topic “Modelling after living plants” within the former institution of the UdK. For his teaching, he developed a collection of pedagogical materials that included gypsum and bronze models, drawings, and photographs. This project addresses this collection, situating it historically and theoretically.

The artistic practice of drawing and painting “from nature” played a fundamental role in the creation of the concept of scientific objectivity, which negotiated diverse forms of visualisation. The epistemic shift from a holistic idea of natural research to the natural sciences, which emancipated themselves from a philosophical basis, resulted in a new view of flora. With this change, flora shed its association with feelings of longing. Representations of plants came instead to play an essential, constitutive role in a new paradigm of “nature realism”, in which images of vegetation were considered to offer supposedly unclouded access to reality. Along these lines, Blossfeldt’s 1928 illustrated book Urformen der Kunst, in which he presented his photographs of plants, was understood as a conceptual counterpart to Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (1904). In contrast to Haeckel’s images of “nature as an artist”, Blossfeldt concentrated on transmission and translation processes that transformed the bio-fact to the artefact, using natural models as the basis for artistic production. This project analyses the varied collection of materials that resulted from this process of ‘translation’ (including the material-practical methods of photographic enlargement, the modelling and direct life-casting of nature). On the basis of these visual and material objects, it examines the intricate set of relationships between the concept of the “archetype” (Urform), social programs of “education” (Bildung), and artistic practises of “transformation” (Umbildung), which were central to Blossfeldt’s work. The project’s main line of inquiry is the emergent conceptual relationship that can be traced in Blossfeldt’s work between the notions of natural form and art form as well as corresponding connections between the notions of the art of nature and natural art.

Blossfeldt’s pedagogical pictures and materials were specific types of didactic instruments, which have rarely been the object of inquiry in the German academia. This project examines the full scope of the Karl Blossfeldt Collection and contextualizes Blossfeldt’s methods and objects alongside other related bodies of work contained in the archive of the UdK, such as the rarely investigated photographs of nature taken by Ottomar Anschütz. The historical collection of such objects contained in the archive no longer serves a didactic or pedagogical function. Yet they introduce questions about the history of scientific objectivity and the special role of flora within this history, as well as illuminate shifting understandings of the intertwined relationship between art and nature. The contemporary currency of these questions suggests new potentially vital pedagogical uses of these objects for contemporary art.

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF): Vernetzen – Erschließen – Forschen. Allianz für universitäre Sammlungen 2017–2020
Head researcher(s): Judith Elisabeth Weiss
Partner(s): The Project is part of the collaborative research project »Bildvorlagen«, in cooperation with Universität der Künste and Münchner Stadtmuseum.


Kathrin Meyer and Judith Elisabeth Weiss for the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden (ed./eds.)

Von Pflanzen und Menschen
Leben auf dem grünen Planeten

Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2019, 208 pages
ISBN: 978-3-8353-3467-0
Judith Elisabeth Weiss (ed./eds.)

Kunstnatur I Naturkunst
Natur in der Kunst nach dem Ende der Natur

KUNSTFORUM international, Vol. 258
Köln 2018, 335 pages
ISSN: 0177-3674

Judith Elisabeth Weiss



07 Jan 2020 · 6.00 pm

Judith Elisabeth Weiss: Plotting Plants. Karl Blossfeldt im Kontext von Design und Kunst der Gegenwart

Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle, Neuwerk 7, 06108 Halle (Saale), Raum 103/104

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28 Nov 2019 · 3.10 pm

Judith Elisabeth Weiss: Regie der Berührung. Sensoren für den Garten in der zeitgenössischen Kunst

Technische Universität Berlin, Straße des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin

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03 Jun 2019 · 7.00 pm

Judith Elisabeth Weiss: Paradise Lost. Der Garten in der Kunst

Kunstraum Alexander Bürkle, Robert-Bunsen-Strasse 5, 79108 Freiburg

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Conference of the collaborative research project »Bildvorlagen
16 May 2019 – 17 May 2019

Vorbilder / Nachbilder. Die fotografischen Sammlungen der Kunstakademie und der Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin im Dialog

Museum für Fotografie, Jebensstr. 2–3, 10623 Berlin

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21 Jun 2018 · 7.00 pm

Judith Elisabeth Weiss: Sterbendes Licht. Vom Nachtstück zum Schwarzen Bild

Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Hans-Thoma-Straße 2-6, 76133 Karlsruhe

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06 Apr 2018 · 12.00 pm

Judith Elisabeth Weiss: »Hiermit trete ich aus der Kunst aus«. Von der Negation im Bild zum Bild der Negation

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Philosophisches Seminargebäude, Kochstraße 6a, 91054 Erlangen, Raum 00.15

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31 Jan 2018 – 01 Feb 2018

Bildvorlagen. Zwischen Ästhetik und Zweck

Archiv der UdK, Einsteinufer 43, 10587 Berlin / ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et.

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15 Sep 2017 · 5.30 pm

Judith Elisabeth Weiss: Vom Biofakt zum Artefakt. Karl Blossfeldts Pflanzenkunde

Martin-Luther-Universität Halle Wittenberg, Institutsbereich Geobotanik und Botanischer Garten, Am Kirchtor 1, 06108 Halle (Saale), Großer Hörsaal

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Media Response

10 May 2020
Der Garten – eine Ortsbestimmung zwischen Paradies und Politik

Radio talk with Judith Elisabeth Weiss, in: BR24 (Bayerischer Rundfunk), 10 May 2020