A view from the vegetables

Vegetable seeds and seedlings are some of the many items being panic purchased by nervous communities during the pandemic. This is partly because cultivating vegetables offers a source of food should supermarkets sell out, but perhaps more importantly, these living and thriving organisms also nourish the soul.

Carl Wilhelm Kolbe (1759-1835) was a German Romantic printmaker who pondered and celebrated the wonders of vegetables. Just like the Romantics who examined nature to experience emotions and reveal divine purposes, now is again the time to lie beneath the cabbages and contemplate the leaves.

Kolbe’s ‘The cow in the reeds’ is one of the 28 etchings he created to depict giant vegetation growing in natural surroundings and which he called ‘Kräuterblätter’ (vegetable sheets). He took his inspiration from the woods of his hometown of Dessau, 17th century Dutch landscapes and the poetry of Salomon Gessner. He created a new perspective by applying almost botanical accuracy to his renderings of vegetation, seen from a worm’s eye view, so that the viewer feels the magic of being amongst colossal plants. In ‘The cow in the reeds’ the animal is of secondary interest to the reeds arching overhead, meadow plants, and in the foreground giant, luscious rhubarb.

Visit the Special Collection blog to view a full digital copy of the original print held by the Baillieu Library Print Collection.

Image of cow resting in reeds
Image: Carl Wilhelm Kolbe, ‘Cow in the reeds’, c.1800. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne. Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton 1959