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A Brief History of Botanical Art

July 2017

Dear Friends:

In the beginning….

People are always amazed to learn that botanical art has been around since the Paleolithic period (35,000 BC) with crude examples of plant life drawn on cave walls.  Mostly used as decorative elements, plants appeared during the Minoan period (3000-1500 BC) on jars and murals.

The inaugural recording of plants for medicinal use can been found on the bas relief at the Temple of Tuthmosis III at Karnak (15th Century BC) which has been established as the earliest florilegium, followed by a treatise by Aristotle’s pupil, Theophrastus “Enquiry into Plants” around 300 BC.  But the first major work of early herbal recordings which was to influence pharmacy until the 17th century was De Materia Medica by Dioscorides in 1st Century Greece.

The stagnation of the middle ages and deterioration of early plant recordings fertilized the artistic energy of the Renaissance painter who began to record with wonderful realistic accuracy plant material for scientific use.  The age of  exploration (13-17th Century) brought plants from various parts of the world and eventually into the gardens of the wealthy.  Thankfully, Carl (Carolus) Linnaeus (1707-1778), often called the father of taxonomy, brought order to plant identification by creating the bi-nominal system (for naming, ranking, and classifying organisms) we are familiar with today.




Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ #2 by O.M.Braida©2003

In the collection of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation


With a plenitude of plant material to re-record, to analyze, to discover, to enjoy, botanical art blossomed. Gardens all over the world have contributed to a magnificent body of botanical art created for science and beauty.  From cave walls to museum walls, for design, science, beauty … botanical art … the intricate drawing of something seemingly insignificant has survived in many ways through the centuries…. it is a testament to endurance and perhaps to the hope that life’s ability to adapt, adjust, and prosper makes way for the future.

Visit our blog over the next few months while we explore Herbals, Woodcuts, Tapestries, Medieval Manuscripts, and Pictorial Printmaking, all in the service of botanical art and civilization!

God Bless.  OM


The Flower – Poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Once in a golden hour
I cast to earth a seed.
Up there came a flower,
The people said, a weed.

To and fro they went
Thro’ my garden bower,
And muttering discontent
Cursed me and my flower.

Then it grew so tall
It wore a crown of light,
But thieves from o’er the wall
Stole the seed by night.

Sow’d it far and wide
By every town and tower,
Till all the people cried,
‘Splendid is the flower! ‘

Read my little fable:
He that runs may read.
Most can raise the flowers now,
For all have got the seed.

And some are pretty enough,
And some are poor indeed;
And now again the people
Call it but a weed.


Flower-Gathering – Poem by Robert Frost

I left you in the morning,
And in the morning glow,
You walked a way beside me
To make me sad to go.
Do you know me in the gloaming,
Gaunt and dusty gray with roaming?
Are you dumb because you know me not,
Or dumb because you know?

All for me And not a question
For the faded flowers gay
That could take me from beside you
For the ages of a day?
They are yours, and be the measure
Of their worth for you to treasure,
The measure of the little while
That I’ve been long away.

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