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More About Herbals

Dear Friends: 

In last month’s issue of Studio News we discussed pictorial printmaking and how it served our botanical world.  This month let us look at some of the most outstanding examples of the printed botanical.

As mentioned before the pursuit of medicinal discovery and its quest for the healing power of herbs was documented in books called “Herbals .”  Authors of most early herbal text and illustration worked not from life but from drawings of previous herbals.  The recopying of classically derived texts and illustrations became especially problematic when attempt was made to describe non-native specimens.  Thus the task to reform the recording of botanical knowledge was taken up by the “fathers of German botany,” Otto Brunfels,  Heironymus (Jerome)  Bock, and Leonhart Fuchs, who made accuracy the first priority of illustration and identification.

1530’s – Herbarum Vivae Eicones by Otto Brunfels (1488-1534), a monk turned clergyman, physician, and naturalist, was based on years of collecting plants in the vicinity of his native Bern, Switzerland.  This 3 volume work is arranged according to the medicinal value of the plant and was an important herbal in the development toward the modern scientific study of plants because of its beautifully illustrated woodcuts created by Hans Weiditz (a pupil of Albrecht Dürer) from original drawings of actual specimens.  Brunfels went on to create several other texts, including Novi Herbarii Tomus II and Tomas Herbarii Othonis Brunfelsii III Corollariis which both contain illustrations drawn from nature.

1546 – Kreutterbuch (Herbal) by Heironymus Bock (1498-1554), a German doctor called the founder of modern botany.  Bock is considered the most important of the three fathers of German botany.  Not stifled by classical teachings or by the responsibilities of educating wealthy students of medicine, Bock gave detailed descriptions of plant stages and communities. Although he did not develop the genus/specie concept, Bock laid the ground work for the science of ecology and for Linnaeus.  Unable to afford illustrations in his first edition, Kreutterbuch was later illustrated with 550 woodblock prints by David Kandel around 1553.

1545 – De Historia Stirpium comentarii insignes (or Notable Commentaries on the History of Plants) by Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566).  Leonhart Fuchs, a German physician and medical professor, studied plant specimens and became an influential herbalist.  Fuchs’ illustrators created images of plants and their life cycle to help readers match real specimens with their printed description.  Fuchs hired three professional artists to create the images for his book:  Albrecht Meyer, who illustrated plants from life; Heinrich Fullmaurer who transferred the illustrations to woodblocks; and Vitus Rudolph Speckle who cut and printed the woodcut illustrations.

Other examples of original botanical illustration printmaking are books referred to as “florilegia” or collections.  The term “florilegia” during the medieval period referred to, ” collections of excerpts from the Bible or from sermons, the metaphorical flowers of Christian knowledge.  By the seventeenth century a florilegium contained visual depictions of literal flowers and was more closely related to the emerging practice of horticulture than to theology.  A florilegium could catalogue the collection of flowers in a specific garden or include horticultural information on the plants depicted…[or even function] as pattern books for designers of formal gardens.  In later florilegia, the illustration of the plant became more important than the text describing it, which was sometimes reduced to a simple caption.”  Claire E. Pingel,  Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections.

1613 – Hortus Eystettensis (The Garden at Eichstatt) by Basilius Besler (1561-1629).  Prince Bishop of Eichstatt in Germany gave botanist Basilius Besler the order to publish a book with engravings of flowers and plants.  This magnificent collection of botanical illustrations is divided into the four seasons of the year.  It took Besler and his assistants sixteen years to complete this work.  Considered one of the most spectacular flower books of all time, Hortus contains 367 folio size plates displaying over 1,000 flowers that dance across the page delighting the viewer.

1730 – Twelve Months of Flowers, published by the horticulturist Robert Furber, was conceived as a flower catalogue.  The artistic quality of the illustrations distinguishes this work far beyond any other catalog produced at that time.  Furber collaborated with the artist, Pieter Casteels of Antwerp (1684-1749), who was already famous for his paintings of birds and flowers.  Casteels designed the plates and Henry Fletcher engraved them.  This great work presented almost 400 different flowering species, grouped according to the month in which they flower as elaborate bouquets in elegant urns.  The flowers have small numbers next to them and at the bottom of the image inside  a border and at its center a cartouche (an ornate frame) displays the appropriate month.  Flanking the cartouche  a numerical key corresponds to the numbered flowers.

1787 – Botanical Magazine  by William Curtis (1746-1799) who was the best known artist of botanical engravings in the late 18th century.  His first large printing endeavor was the Flora Londinensis which he began in 1774 to illustrate the plants growing around London.  It was a financial failure and never completed.  To recoup his losses, Curtis launched his Botanical Magazine in 1787 (it still continues to this day) employing botanical artists such as James Sowerby (1757-1822) and William Kilburn (1745-1818).  His protégé, Sydenham Teast Edwards (1768-1819), produced nearly 1700 images over a 27 year period.  All of the Curtis engravings are copperplates with original hand-coloring.  Many of these engravings can be seen at the Marie Selby Botanical Garden Library in Sarasota, Florida.

1729-1747 – The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands by Mark Catesby (1683-1749).  This work was executed as a hand-colored copper engraving.  It is “the most famous colour-plate book of American plant and animal life…a fundamental and original work for the study of American species” (Hunt).  Trained as a botanist, Catesby traveled to Virginia in 1712 and remained there for seven years, sending back to England collections of plants and seeds.  He returned to America in 1722 and traveled extensively in Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and the Bahamas.  Catesby learned to etch his own plates to ensure accuracy and economy.  It is an important body of work and is considered the most significant natural history record of the American colonial period before Audubon’s Birds of America.

1748-1759 – Hortus Nitidissimus.   Although this work was actually started by Johann Michael Seligmann (1720-1762) the engravings were based on the collection of flower drawings owned by botanist, Christoph Kakob Trew (1695-1769), a distinguished physician of Nuremberg.  Georg Dionysus Ehret (1708-1770), who enjoyed Trew’s patronage and traveled widely on his behalf before settling in London, produced designs for 40 of the eventual 188 plates.  What distinguishes Hortus Nitidissimus is the way in which the combination of watercolor and gouache almost entirely conceals the engraved lines.  Ehret’s second most famous work is the Plantae Selectee (1750-1773).

C. 1800 – Fleurs Dessinées D’Après Nature contains a series of stipple engravings by Louis Charles Ruotte after drawings by one of the greatest botanical painters and Dutch floral painters of all time, Gerard van Spaendonck, Peintre du Roi.  Van Spaendonck was also the master teacher of Redouté and Bessa and the man who selected Redouté to succeed him as court painter.  This incredible florilegium is the only volume ever published of the master’s work and contains illustrations of classic flowers including the Lavatera trimestris, L. (Royal Mallow), Antirrhinum majus, L. (Garden Snapdragon), Hyacinthus orientalis , L. (Double Hyacinth).  The original series of prints were hand-colored under Spaendonck’s direction.  Ruotte was a gifted engraver and the prints he made after Spaendonck’s drawings received the acclaim of Wilfred Blunt and William Stern who rated them “among the finest engravings ever made.” (Hunt)

1809-28 – Description de l’EgypteEdme François Jomard, editor.  This enormous work was published in Paris soon after Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798. It contains 23 volumes compiled with the help of 167 prominent scholars, scientists, and artists.  The work led the way to the study of Egyptology.  The Natural History portion contains text and illustration of geology, geography, mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and flora.  Among the many artists who contributed drawings to this portion are Jacques Barraband, Jean Gabriel Pretre, Pierre Joseph and Henri Redouté, and Pierre Jean François Turpin, Antoine Poiteau.  These artists were responsible for some of the worlds greatest collections of nature art including but not limited to:  Histoire Naturelle Des Perroquets, Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux Des Paradis et des Rolliers (Birds of Paradise) and Histoire Naturelle des Promerops, (Barraband, illustrator); Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux de Paradis et des Epimaques (Pretre, illustrator).  Les Liliacées; Les Roses; and Le Choix des Plus Belle Fleurs (P.J. Redouté, illustrator); Traite des arbres Fruitiers (Turpin and Poiteau, illustrators.)

Forgive me for skipping over so many great botanical collections. But as you can well imagine the list is incredibly long.  To glimpse further into the tremendous contribution of botanical florilegia, I’ve listed below a few more highly notable works that I hope will wet your appetite for future reading and discovery:

1.    Phytanthoza Iconographia by Johann Wilhelm Weinmann

2.    La Natura e Coltura de’ Fiori (Rare Blossoms of Botany)  by Filippo Arena

3.    Temple of Flora  by Robert John Thornton

4.    Pomona Britannica; or, a Collection of the Most Esteemed Fruits  by George Brookshaw

5.    Pomona Londinensis  by William Hooker

6.    Flore Pittoresque dédié  aux dame by Antoine Chazal

7.    Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages Choisis De L’Ille De Java  by Berthe Hoola Van Nooten

8.    Sertum Palmarum Brasiliensium au Relation Des Palmiers Mouveaux du Brésil  by Joao Barbosa Rodrigues.

God Bless.  OM

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