The man in the straw hat – the ‘naturalist’ of the title – has discovered an unusual plant occupied by an extraordinary looking ‘endemic’ butterfly. Having studied the plant life description in the page-leaves of the book, he is carefully examining this specimen.
His interest in this beautiful ‘winged folio’ is sparked by ancient notions of the butterfly as a symbol of immortality. Its life cycle is an excellent example, as it goes through the stages of living (a brightly colored caterpillar), dying (a dark chrysalis) and rebirth (the spirit breaking free).
The butterfly as an emblematic depiction of the soul can be found in such widely separated regions as Zaire, Central Asia, Mexico and New Zealand. Butterflies symbolized the souls of fallen warriors for the Aztecs and were offered as sacrifices to some of the Mexican deities.
Butterflies have similar symbolism when used on Christian gravestones. An image of Christ holding a butterfly in the palm of His hand is a reference to resurrection. It must have given rise to the notion of the soul as an “unread book”, the soul that remains a mystery.
The birds nestling in the naturalist’s hat complete the picture, connecting the soul of ‘earthly man’ to ‘divine heaven’. Perhaps they are singing the notes of nature from the scores written in the wings of the butterfly. And all around them there is a rustling sound of pages being turned in the Book of Nature.