Humboldt’s 'Naturgemälde' can pave the way for lasting agro-ecological transitions

Chimborazo—the indestructible, snow-capped “throne of nature,” as Simón Bolívar called the imposing volcano in Ecuador—that’s where a dashing Alexander von Humboldt formulated his vision of nature back in 1802. Having ascended that “stairway of titans” and been granted with “unobstructed vistas” on past and yet-to-be eternities, everything crystalized for the young Humboldt, born 250 years ago last fall. A detailed croquis of the mountain’s cross-section embodied all his thinking—a microcosm on one single page, mirroring how nature is a true web of life, a united whole… a global force. When drawing his “painting of nature” (or Naturgemälde), Humboldt realized how he simply couldn’t just be a geologist or a botanist in order to fully grasp and comprehend all its inter-connections. 

Image: Alexander von Humboldt, by Friedrich Georg Weitsch.