Exhibition: An expedition to Brazil
The spectacular travels of Alexander von Humboldt inspired others to embark on similar journeys of discovery. A new exhibition has now opened in Berlin highlighting the expedition undertaken by the two scientists, Spix and Martius.
The whole concept of the expedition led by zoologist Johann Baptist Spix and botanist Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius was fraught with risk right from the start, as neither of them had any prior experience of travelling outside Europe. Undaunted, the two Bavarians set sail on 10th April 1817 from the Italian port of Trieste bound for Brazil.
The expedition was funded by Emperor Franz I of Austria, whose daughter Leopoldine had become betrothed to Dom Pedro, heir to the Portuguese throne. The Portuguese royal family had moved their court to Rio de Janeiro some time before. It therefore seemed appropriate to send the bride aboard the flagship of the Austrian fleet, the appropriately named ‘Austria’.
After almost exactly three months, the ship and its high-ranking passengers reached Rio, from where Spix and Martius embarked on a three-year trek covering thousands of kilometres. They were particularly interested in the flora and fauna of the Amazon basin. The two scientists brought home an extensive collection of items, including 350 birds and 6,500 plants. Many of their finds are still on display today. They also published studies and drawings of turtles, amphibians, monkeys, birds and palm trees. The latter were of especial interest to the botanist, Martius.
The relevance of the results of their expedition to science today is made apparent by a current exhibition at the Ibero-American Institute in Berlin, Spix und Martius: Reisebetrachtungen aus Brasilien (Spix and Martius: An expedition to Brazil).
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