Marseus in the Land of Snakes

No one quite knows what led Otto Marseus van Schrieck to the invention of the sottobosco, but it was certainly in the spirit of the times. Born around 1620, Marseus grew up amid the great scientific flourishing of the seventeenth century. This included, among much else, the development of the microscope, which soon led to a widespread enthusiasm for all things minute. Around when Marseus is thought to have been born, the poet and composer Constantijn Huygens looked through an early microscope, later marveling in his memoirs that, “It really is as if you stand before a new theater of nature, or are on a different planet.” The sentiment captures much of the joy of Marseus’s paintings, which at their best give the impression of seeing a world through the eyes of someone encountering it for the first time.

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