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Monday May 1st 2017

Junghuhn and the Image of Priangan

Land of Sunda | Monday, 10 January 2011 | sundanesecorner.org

Hawé Setiawan

Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (www.nationaalherbarium.nl)

Little is my knowledge of the life and time of Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809-1864), for I have only read limited sources on the subject. Among the materials I have studied so far is an account of the man by Rob Nieuwenhuys in a chapter of his Mirror of Indies, an English version of the Dutch book about the history of ‘Dutch Colonial literature’. Despite the fact that as a scientist Junghuhn had never written any single work of ‘literature’ —at least, in its narrow sense—, the author praised Junghuhn as ‘an important writer’[1]. It is very interesting that in tracing the historical pathway of the literature, Niewenhuys paid attention not only to novelists and poets, but also to historian, botanist, and naturalist. Junghuhn was one of the very names.

The German born naturalist, Junghuhn undertook researches in Sumatra and Java, including in West Java. His name is still remembered by some West Javanese people, mainly those who live around Bandung. His tomb is located on the plain of Lembang, north of Bandung. One of contemporary accounts of Junghuhn’s legacies in Java is a feature article by Jakarta-based young historian J.J. Rizal in the Indonesian edition of National Geographic magazine. Entitled Dia yang Pamit kepada Gunung ‘He Who Said Farewell to the Mount’ Rizal’s account emphasized Junghuhn’s contributions to quinine cultivation in 19th century West Java. He stated, ‘In Bandung, Junghuhn’s name has been positioned at the same level with some big names of international academic world such as Eijkman, Pasteur, Bosscha, Ehrlich, Otten, and Westhoff, which are memorized as street names—though many of the residents have forgotten them.’

Rizal also took into account an interesting aspect of Junghuhn’s works: his skill in creating pictures, including his initiative in pioneering the use of photography for naturalists’ undertakings. ‘Apart from his literary talent, Junghuhn was also strongly talented in drawing. This could be seen in nearly all of his books. Junghuhn was capable to create fine pictorial compositions. Strong are his lines in catching the details. Attracting is his way in setting the colours so that we could feel the tropical nature he depicted. In those times great naturalists like Humboldt and Haeckel were indeed keen on creating sketches, aquarelles, and other illustrations to be printed on their books. Junghuhn had even specially published a big coloured lithographs book depicting the landscapes of Java, Lanschafts-Ansichten von Java,’ said Rizal in his feature article[2].

Junghuhn's 'Goenoeng Goentoer', scanned from one of his books.

It is this pictorial aspect that makes me interested in the works of Junghuhn, for I have been undertaking a research on the visualization of Priangan landscapes made by European illustrators in colonial era. A couple of months a go I went to the library of Bandung Geological Museum. Thanks to a friend who worked there, I saw some interesting drawings of Priangan made by Junghuhn. Some of his drawings can also be accessed on the Internet.  As far as Priangan landscapes are concerned, we can notice here that Junghuhn had explored mountainous regions of Priangan for about 12 years, so that his exploration throughout the region had produced remarkable number of drawings. Among the sceneries of Priangan that were pictured by Junghuhn were Mount Gede, Mount Guntur, Mount Krakatau, Mount Tampomas, Patengan Lake, and Patuha Crater.

Nieuwenhuys himself noticed this pictorial aspect of Junghuhn’s works as follows:

‘From 1852 until 1854, four volumes appeared of his standard work, which was immediately followed by a revised, second edition entitled Java’s Shape, Flora and Internal Structure (Java, deszelfs gedaante, bekleeding en inwendige structuur). The work was “embellished” with maps and drawings, outlines of mountains and landscapes, all masterfully executed. Minister of Colonies Pahud also commissioned him to draw a Map of the Island of Java (Kaart van bet eiland Java, 1855), and his book about Java has a companion volume of colored lithographs done after Junghuhn’s own drawings called Atlas of Views, containing Eleven Picturesque Scenes (Atlas van platen, bevattende elf pittoreske gezichten). To Junghuhn, an artistically appealing landscape meant “a question of fantasy, subject to a number of interpretations.” “My landscapes,” he wrote, “are essentially lifelike.” They show cloud formations that look like “clenched fists,” side views of geological strata, the shape of branches, and the structures of leaves. They have been drawn exactly as he observed them either with a magnifying glass or with a powerful telescope, Junghuhn’s landscapes are meant to illustrate his scientific purpose of natural observation, and his introductions to the plates clearly reveal his working method. For example, a lithograph showing the mountain Gunung Gedeh is accompanied by the instruction that the spectator should imagine himself in the same forest as described in volume one of Java’s Shape. However, in order to get any view at all, the dense jungle has been omitted and only the flowering leptospermum floribundum has been allowed to remain, he tells us. Although Junghuhn himself considered his drawings “lifelike,” they do strike us as decidedly unreal because their details are not integrated with the whole. They resemble landscapes of an alien world, and that may well explain why they are so fascinating. The only extensive commentary written by Junghuhn on the lithographs is to be found in the German edition of 1853, entitled Landschafts-Ansichten von Java.’[3]


[1] See Rob Nieuwenhuys, Mirror of the Indies: A History of Dutch Colonial Literature, translated from Dutch by Frans van Rosevelt, edited by E.M. Beekman (University of Massachusetts, 1982).

[2] For more details, visit the website at http://nationalgeographic.co.id/featurepage/180/dia-yang-pamit-kepada-gunung/1)

[3] Nieuwenhuys, ibid. pp 74-75.

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3 Responses to “Junghuhn and the Image of Priangan”

  1. bagja darajat says:

    People in abroad are interested in Indonesian landscape. What about Indonesian people? Do they realize it?

  2. Hawe Setiawan says:

    Dear Kang Bagja,

    It is true that European people like Junghuhn were deeply interested in the beauty of Indonesian natural landscape. Indonesian people, including my humble self, could learn from them in realizing the remarkable natural landscape we inherited from our ancestors.

  3. […] —at least, in its narrow sense—, the author praised Junghuhn as ‘an important writer’[1]. It is very interesting that in tracing the historical pathway of the literature, Niewenhuys paid […]

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