The Scholars on their Travels

Optical devices in use in the Tropics.

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Scholars on their Travels

Die Gelehrten auf Reisen
(The Scholars on Their Travels)
Early 19th c. German School
after Christian Gottfried Heinrich
Geißler, circa 1820?

This antique German print shows three scholarly men in a less than favourable light. The botanist, with floral adornment in his hat as well as in his back pack, uses a magnifying lens to study a blue flower. His portly companion is an antiquarian and also the diarist of the expedition, the true purpose of which is revealed in the document flourished by his other bespectacled and bemedalled companion. They have come all this way in a vain attempt to discover 'Utopia' in savage lands.

The comic lampooning of pseudo-intellectuals in the German literary tradition may stem from the formidable Luise Adelgunde Victorie Gottsched (1713-1762) wife of the Liepizig professor of poetry and philosophy, Johann Christoph Gottsched. Indeed the phrase 'Die Gelehrten auf Reisen' occurs in one of her letters written in Regensburg on 6 September 1749. Although of a later period, this print by Wunder after Geysler's drawing, originates from Nuremberg and may reasonably be seen as illustrating the ideas Gottsched set in train. A pair of spectacles ludicrously worn is a well-used artistic device to suggest the muddled thinking of the wearer.

Detail from The Scholars on their Travels

To believe the evidence of satirical prints you'd think everyone wore lenses of a vertical oval shape! This was not the case. Rather the artist has exaggerated their appearance for comic effect. The style of the sides depicted here is uncertain; they are certainly double-hinged and could be of the turnpin type, which would mean that they were early 19th century in date.