A remarkable work of educational folk art

Odo Staab, [Didactic manuscript map of Europe.] [Germany], 1813.
Ink, watercolor and gouache on wove paper bearing “C&I Honig” watermark, 20 ½”h x 21”w at sheet edge. Age toned, minor worming, a few mended tears, and scattered edge wear.

A unique and utterly charming early 19th-century manuscript visual compendium, combining cartography and natural history and most likely executed for classroom or tutorial use. 

The composition features a central map of Europe, likely based on one from Johannes Walch’s Allgemeiner Atlas, first issued in 1803.  The map is surrounded by a plethora of finely-detailed vignettes: portraits of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Martin Luther; native figures from northern climes exhibiting dress and culture within the context of their environment; and exotic natural-historical subjects, also from northern climes, such as polar bears, a golden eagle, hyena[!], and a Norwegian blue fox. At the base is a large panel framed in blue and containing a brilliant catalog study of dozens of varieties of beetle. This panel bears a title crediting one “Iablonski” as its source, probably the Berlin entomologist Carl Gustav Jablonsky (1756-1787).

The lower-right margin of the sheet is signed and dated“Odo Staab del 1813.” The only Odo Staab for whom we find reference was a Benedictine priest, musician, winemaker and author in central and western Germany. There is no indication that he was active as an educator or tutor, and in 1813 he would have been nearly 70 years old… all in all, making it unlikely that he was the artist.

Whoever exactly our Odo Staab was, this composition is one of a suite of five produced by him in or around 1813, the others depicting Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Australia. In 1983 the five were offered for sale in New York by Justin G. Schiller, apparently priced individually.  The Australia sheet is now owned by the State Library of New South Wales, and according to Maggie Patton the Asia sheet sold for £1680 at Christies London in 2005 (Sale 7041, lot 58).  We have alas found no trace of the Africa and Americas sheets.

Whether Odo Staab was a student or teacher, his skillfully drawn image is a remarkable and thoroughly pleasing piece of educational folk art.

Maggie Patton, “‘Australien oder die Inseln-Welt’: a nineteenth-century mash-up,” IMCOS Journal Winter 2015 no. 143, pp. 50-53.

Owned in partnership with James Arsenault & Company.