João Barbosa Roderigues is recognized as one of Brazil's greatest naturalists. He is perhaps best known for his vivid book of chromolithographs titled “Sertum Palmarum Brasiliensium” featuring the palms of the Amazon. This large-scale publication displays 382 species of palms in 42 genera. 166 of them were described as new by Roderigues. When taken out of context , they have an almost abstract quality, with strong lines, bold color, and sophisticated composition.
Born in Campanha, in the state of Minas Gerias, Roderigues was the son of a respected Portuguese merchant and a Brazilian woman of Indian descent. Versed in latin, Greek and French, Rodrigues’ classical education aided him in his botnaical career. An overtly talented child, he became a poet and novelist, publishing his first work at the age of eleven.
On a commission for the Brazilian government, Roderigues set out to explore the Amazon in 1871. One specific task laid out to him was to study the palms of this lush and expansive forest which had also attracted many scientists and explorers from Europe. Accompanied by his family he stayed there on assignment for three-and-a-half years. Roderigues is noted as being the first native Brazilian to document the palms of the Amazon.
Returning from his expedition with many specimens in tow, Roderigues became director of the Botanical Museum of the Amazon which at its height of development housed 10,000 botanical specimens. In 1890 he became the director of the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro where he was still able to continue his research and writing. He also embarked on many expeditions through other South American countries, and started the first scientific journal for Brazil’s world-class botanical garden entitled “Contributions du Jardin Botanique du Rio de Janiero”.
In 1902 the Brazilian congress arranged for the publication of “Sertum Palmarum” in Brussels, Belgium. The double folio was published in 1903. Along with its descriptions of palms, the work also includes a list of their uses, and common names accompanied by their scientific names. With 174 fantastic full-page illustrations, Roderigues' masterpiece is the ultimate combination of science and art.
Please contact Philadelphia Gallery Director Lori Cohen at (215) 735-8811 for additional photographs or with any questions.