Art of Botanical Illustration
Herbals and Early
are books containing the names and descriptions of plants and their medicinal
properties. In the Middle Ages, western European herbals were based on
the works of classical authors, in particular Pedanios Dioscorides, the
ancient Greek writer who was the father of medical botany. Dioscorides'
greatest work De materia medica, written about 60 A.D., was the
basis for western pharmaceutical and herbal writing for the next 1500
years. With the invention of the printing press, the knowledge of botany
became more wide-spread. The earliest printed herbals were merely copies
of manuscript works, reproduced without reference to live specimens. They
were filled with errors caused by the mistranscription and misunderstanding
of earlier works. Not until the early sixteenth century when botanists
began to study live plants, would herbals include scientifically accurate
Sanitatis; de herbis et plantis... Strasbourg: Reinhard Beck, anno
One of the earliest
extant printed herbals in Europe, the Ortus Sanitatis was derived
from Medieval works, which were themselves copies of Greek manuscripts.
The crude woodblock illustrations were taken from the German Herbarius
(1485). By relying on the illustrations in earlier herbals, rather than
studying actual plant specimens, the illustrators reproduced many of their
predecessors' errors,including the depiction of mythical flowers such
as the narcissus with human heads for flowers.
Petri Andreae Matthioli senensis medici : commentarij in sex
libros Pedacij Dioscoridis Anazarbei De medica materia. Venetiis
: Ex Officina Valgrisiana, 1565.
Italian physician and botanist, is known today for his translations
and commentary on the works of the Greek botanist Pedanios Dioscorides.
Of the many editions of De medica materia that Mattioli produced,
the most important is this 1565 edition which contains large woodcuts
done by Giorgio Liberale and Wolfgang Meyerpeck. Because the engravers
had to work within the confines of a small wood block, the images
of the plants connform to a rectangular shape, even when that does
not reflect the actual growth pattern. The artists did try to make
the images attractive, however, filling the space with foliage and
using shading to add depth.
A nievve herball; or, Historie of plantes: wherein is contayned the
vvhole discourse and perfect description of all sortes of herbes and plantes:
... and that not onely of those which are here growyng in this our cuntrie
of Englande but of all others also of forrayne realmes commonly used in
physicke. At London, by my Gerard Dewes ..., 1578.
Herball used the woodblocks from an earlier work De Historia Stirpium
published by Leonhart Fuchs in 1542. Fuchs did look to living plants for
his designs, but then "improved" them by removing any natural
imperfections and by showing a plant in the flowering and fruiting stages
John Gerard, 1545-1612.
The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes gathered by John Gerarde
of London master in chirvrgerie ; Very much enlarged and amended by Thomas
Johnson citizen and apothecarye of London. London: Printed by Adam
Islip, Joice Norton and Richard Whitakers, 1633.
Gerard included about
182 flowering British plants, never before described in print, which significantly
expanded the knowledge of native plants. The woodcuts in the first edition
were largely made from blocks previously used by the Dutch printer Plantin.
This second edition includes additional plates done after illustrations
by Thomas Johnson or his assistant, John Goodyer.
Herbier de la France, ou, Collection complette des plantes...
A Paris : Chez Garnery ... Bleuet jeune ..., 1780-1791.
la France is considered an herbal because it illustrates and orders
plants according to the traditional divisions--medicinal, poisonous,
edible. All of the six hundred plates were drawn, engraved and color
printed by Bulliard. His use of three tint plates over an engraved
outline was far ahead of his time. The delicacy of his color and
line and the way that the images fill the page make this one of
the loveliest of the eighteenth century botanical works.
EARLY BOTANICAL WORKS
van de Passe, d. 1670.
Hortus floridus in quo rariorum & minus vulgarium florum
icones ad vivam varamq<ue> formam accuratissime delineatae.
Extant Arnheimij, apud Ioannem Ianssonium, bibliopolam ibid [1614-1616].
greatest of the early horticultural works using copperplate engraving,
Hortus Floridus shows the great control and detail possible with
this technique. Van de Passe was a member of a famous family of
Dutch engravers and went on to become a Professor of Drawing at
a school for the education of the royal pages in Paris. Unlike the
stiff and artificial look of most seventeenth century botanical
works, Hortus Floridus shows the plants planted in the earth,
sometimes accompanied by insects or animals. Most of the flowers
shown in the book are tulips, crocuses, and other flowering bulbs.
The Dutch enthusiasm for collecting and planting these flowers led
to the "tulipomania" of 1636 and 1637, when speculation
in the investment of tulip bulbs caused a natonwide financial crisis.
Vallet, fl. 1600
Le Jardin du Roy Très Chrestien, Loys XIII, Roy de France
et de Navare ... A Paris: Et se vandent au Logis de l'auteur,
Rue du Four,1623.
a selection of plants from the French Royal Gardens. Although the
illustrations are botanically correct, the work is not a gardening
book, but a pattern book for painters, embroiderers, and tapestry
weavers. Vallet was, himself, not only a royal gardener but also
a royal embroiderer. As a further aid to the artist and designer,
the text describes the colors of the flowers represented in the
Paradisi In Sole Paradisus Terrestris, or A Garden of all sorts
of pleasant, flowers which our English ayre will permit to the noursed
vp... London: Printed by Hvmfrey Lownes and Robert Yovng at
the signe of the Starre on Bread-street hill, 1629.
the apothecary to James I and botanist to Charles I. Paradisi
is the earliest important treatise on horticulture published in
England and marked the transition between the herbal which focused
solely on the medicinal use of plants and the modern gardening book
which viewed plants as ornament and objects of beauty. The original
woodcuts for the book were made by A. Switzer, a German artist working
Battista Ferrari, 1584-1655.
Flora: ouero, Cvltvra di fiori del Roma. Facciotti: 1638.
Ferrari, a Jesuit priest, intended this work to be both a serious
work of botany and an object of beauty. Flora is a manual
on ornamental flowers and their cultivation. The illustrations,
done in copperplate engraving, are a mix of new designs by well
known artists of the period and others copied from florilegia being
published at that time in Northern Europe. One of the artists was
Anna Maria Variana (active in Rome circa 1630), possibly the first
woman professional botanical illustrator.
Variae ac multiformes florum species appressae ad viuum et aeneis
tabulis incisae = diverses fleurs dessinees et gravees d'apres le
naturel. London: Scolar Press, 1975. Facsimile of the Paris
ed., ca. 1660, from a copy in the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural
out as a painter of ornamental flower pictures but his work became
more botanically oriented after he was hired by the Duke of Orleans
to draw the rare and exotic plants and animals brought to the Duke's
gardens. Scholars believe that the Scottish botanist Robert Morison,
director of the gardens, encouraged Robert to take a more scientific
approach to his subject.
Caspari Commelin ... Praeludia botanica ad publicas plantarum
exoticarum demonstrationes ... Lugduni Batavorum: Apud Fredericum
a Dutch physician and botanist and held the chair of botany at the
university at Amsterdam. He was instrumental in making the Amsterdam
botanical garden one of the finest of its time. Because Holland
was a trading center for its colonies around the world, new plant
specimens were constantly being brought back to the gardens. The
plate "Geranium aftricanum" was the first depiction and description
of the geranium and fixes the date of its introduction into European
gardens. The plate was engraved by Pieter Sluyter.
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Last modified: 12/21/10