The History of Botanical Prints
What is a Botanical Print?
HERBALS, whose function was to provide information on the useful properties of plants, were the first illustrated botanical printed works to appear in western Europe. At first they were stylized images in the manner of many of the hand-wrought manuscript herbals which preceded them. The first printed herbal was the Herbal of Apuleius Platonicus, published in Rome circa 1481, with woodcut illustrations. However, by the mid 16th century, the Renaissance interest in the natural world and realism in illustration asserted itself; now herbals with original, more realistically rendered botanical picture studies appeared. These books have been described as “the first biological books which relied on scientifically accurate illustrations”
The introduction of the Linnaean sexual system of plant classification in 1737 and its almost universal acceptance gave a tremendous impetus to the production of illustrated botanical books. Benefiting from improved printing techniques, botanical depiction in the latter half of the 18th century saw the marriage of beauty and scientific accuracy. Artists such as Redouté profited from developments in printmaking, e.g. the technique of stipple engraving, which effectively produced tone or shading as part of the printmaking process.
More illustrated flower books were published in the first half of the 19th century than in the whole of the 18th century, as a result of advances in printing, papermaking technologies and an expanded buying public. This period saw the publication of many botanical magazines modeled on the success of William Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. Both black-and-white and color reproduction reached a standard that has never since been surpassed, largely owing to the skills developed by artists, engravers and printers, in response to the demands of the botanists. The development of lithography in the early 1800s allowed many botanical artists to produce their own plates, which played no small role in this artistic burgeoning.
At the end of the nineteenth century, commercial printing was revolutionized by the introduction of photographic techniques, such as the halftone. The transfer of the artist’s image to the printing plate was now achieved by mechanical processes, rather than the plate being worked on directly by the artist or craftsman. While allowing for great accuracy, the aesthetic appeal of the manual printmaking processes (woodcut, wood-engraving, intaglio engraving, and lithography) is lacking in these “process” prints.
Through handling antique prints, the characteristic features of botanicals from different eras will become familiar to the collector. The quality of the printmaking techniques used (now associated with “fine art” prints) and the quality of the papers will soon make apparent to the beginning collector the reason genuine antique prints (as opposed to modern reproductions) are sought after. In addition, many examples are available at a very modest cost. With every print in a collection there is the pleasure of establishing the name and origin of the plant, the artist and printmaker, the type of printing technique and the purpose of the publication. Practically every print will have a fascinating story attached to it, and the pleasure is of course in discovering these stories, while admiring the beauty of the object.
For a more detailed history of Botanical Art, see the following article below.
It was first published in 1927 in one of the first scientific journals on the subject.
Evoloution Of The Art Of Botanical Illustration
( Originally Published 1912 )
IN the art of botanical illustration, evolution was by no means a simple and straightforward process. We do not find, in Europe, a steady advance from early illustrations of poor quality to later ones of a finer character. On the contrary, among the earliest extant drawings, of a definitely botanical intention, we meet with wonderfully good figures, free from such features as would be now generally regarded as archaic. The famous Vienna manuscript of Dioscorides (see pp. 8 and 85) is a remarkable example of the excellence of some of the very early work. It dates back to the end of the fifth, or the beginning of the sixth century of the Christian era. It is illustrated with brush drawings on a large scale, which in many cases are notably naturalistic, and often quite modern in appearance (Plates I, II, XV). The general habit of the plant is admirably expressed, and occasionally, as in the case of the Bean (Plate XV), the characters of the flowers and seed-vessels are well indicated. In this drawing, also, the leaves are effectively foreshortened.
There are a number of other manuscript herbals in existence, illustrated with interesting figures. The Library of the University of Leyden possesses a particularly fine example’, which is ascribed to the seventh century A.D.
This work contains coloured drawings of exceptional beauty, which are smaller than those in the Vienna manuscript, but quite equally realistic.
It is however with the history of botanical figures since the invention of the printing press that we are here more especially concerned. From this epoch onwards, the history of botanical illustration is intimately bound up with the history of wood-engraving, until, at the extreme end of the sixteenth century, engraving on metal first came into use to illustrate herbals. During the seventeenth century, metal-engravings and wood-cuts existed side by side, but wood-engraving gradually declined, and was in great measure superseded by engraving on metal. The finest period of plant illustration was during the sixteenth century, when wood-engraving was at its zenith.
Botanical wood-engravings may be regarded as belonging to two schools, but it should be understood that the distinction between them is somewhat arbitrary and must not be pressed very far. One of these may perhaps be regarded as representing the last, decadent expression of that school of late classical art which, a thousand years earlier, had given rise to the drawings in the Vienna manuscript. Probably no original wood-cuts of this school were produced after the close of the fifteenth century. In the second phase, on the other hand, which culminated, artistically, if not scientifically, in the sixteenth century, we find a renaissance of the art, due to a more direct study of nature.
The first school, of which we may take the cuts in the Roman edition of the ` Herbarium’ of Apuleius Platonicus (? 1484) as typical examples, has, as Dr Payne has pointed out, certain very well-marked characteristics. The figures of the plants (see Plates IV, V, X V I, and Text-figs. i and 2), which occupy square or oblong spaces, are very formal and are often represented with complete bilateral symmetry. They show no sign of having been drawn directly from nature, but look as if they were founded on previous work. They have a decorative rather than a naturalistic appearance ; it seems, indeed, as if the principle of decorative symmetry controlled the artist almost against his will. These drawings are somewhat of the nature of diagrams by a draughtsman “who generalized his know-ledge of the object.” In Dr Payne’s own words, ” Such figures, passing through the hands of a hundred copyists, became more and more conventional, till they reached their last and most degraded form in the rude cuts of the Roman Herbarium, which represent not the infancy, but the old age of art. Uncouth as they are, we may regard them with some respect, both as being the images of flowers that bloomed many centuries ago, and also as the last ripple of the receding tide of Classical Art.”
The illustrations of the ` Herbarium’ of Apuleius were copied from pre-existing manuscripts, and the age of the originals is no doubt much greater than that of the printed work. Those here reproduced are taken from a copy in the British Museum, in which the pictures were coloured, probably at the time when the book was published.
Colouring of the figures was characteristic of many of the earliest works in which wood-engraving was employed. In cases where uncoloured copies of such books exist, there are often blank spaces in the wood-cuts, which were left in order that certain details might afterwards be added in colour. The origin of wood-engraving is closely connected with the early history of playing-card manufacture. Playing-cards were at first coloured by means of stencil plates, and the same method, very naturally, came to be employed in connection with the wood-blocks used for book illustration.
The engravings in the ` Herbarium’ of Apuleius are executed in black, in very crude outline. At least two colours, now much faded, were also employed by means of stencilling. The work was coarsely done, and the colours only ” register ” very roughly. Brown appears to have been used for the animals, roots and flowers, and green for the leaves. The drawings show some rather curious mannerisms. For instance, in the first cut labelled ” Vettonia,” each of the lanceolate leaves is outlined continuously on the one side, but with a broken line on the other. It has been suggested that the illustrations in the ` Herbarium’ are possibly not wood-engravings, but rude cuts in metal, excavated after the manner of a wood-block.
We have already referred to the imaginative portrait of the Mandrake (Plate V). Figures of the animals whose bites or stings were supposed to be cured by the use of a particular herb, were often introduced into the drawing, as in the case of the Plantain (Text-fig. 1) which is accompanied by a serpent and a scorpion. In this figure the cross-hatching of white lines on black—the simplest possible device from the point of view of the wood-engraveris employed with good effect. Sometimes the essential character of the plant is seized, but the way in which it is expressed is curiously lacking in a sense of proportion, as in the case of “Dracontea” (Plate X V I), one of the Arum family.
The figures in the ` Herbarium’ are characterised by an excellent trait, which is common to most of the older herbals, namely the habit of portraying the plant as a whole, including its roots. This came about naturally because the root was often of special value from the druggist’s point of view. It is to be regretted that, in modern botanical drawings, the recognition of the paramount importance of the flower and fruit in classification has led to a comparative neglect of the organs of vegetation, especially those which exist underground.
We now come to a series of illustrations, which may be regarded as occupying an intermediate position between the classical tradition of the ` Herbarium’ of Apuleius, and the renaissance of botanical drawing, which took place early in the sixteenth century. These include the illustrations to the ` Book of Nature,’ and to the Latin and German Herbarius,’ the ` Ortus Sanitatis,’ and their derivatives, which were discussed in Chapters II and III.
Das puch der natur’ of Konrad von Megenberg occupies a unique position in the history of botany, for it is the first work in which a wood-cut representing plants was used with the definite intention of illustrating the text, and not merely for a decorative purpose. It was first printed in Augsburg in 1475, and is thus several years older than the earliest printed edition of the ` Herbarium’ of Apuleius Platonicus which we have just discussed. The single plant drawing, which illustrates it, is probably not of such great antiquity, however, as those of the ` Her-barium,’ for its appearance suggests that it was probably executed from nature for this book, and not copied and recopied from one manuscript to another before it was engraved. The illustration in question is a full-page wood-cut, showing a number of plants, growing in situ (Plate III). Several species (e.g. Ranunculus acris, the Meadow Buttercup, Viola odorata, the Sweet Violet, and Convallaria majalis, the Lily-of-the-Valley) are distinctly recognisable. It is noticeable that, in two cases in which a rosette of radical leaves is represented, the centre of the rosette is filled in in black, upon which the leaf-stalks appear in white.
This use of the black background, which gives a rich and solid effect, was carried much further in later books, such as the ` Ortus Sanitatis.’
A wood-cut, somewhat similar in style to that just described, but more primitive, occurs in Trevisa’s version of the mediæval encyclopædia of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, which was printed by Wynkyn de Worde before the end of the fifteenth century. It is probably the first botanical figure illustrating an English book.
The illustrations to the Latin ‘Herbarius’ or ` Herbarius Moguntinus,’ published at Mainz in 1484 (Text-figs. 3, 4, 5, 73), form the next group of botanical wood-cuts. The figures are much better than those of the ` Herbarium’ of Apuleius, but at the same time they are, as a rule, formal and conventional, and often quite unrecognisable. The want of realism is very conspicuous in such a drawing as that of the Lily (Text-fig. 3), in which the leaves are represented as if they had no organic continuity with the stem. Some of the figures are wonderfully charming, and in their decorative effect recall the plant designs so often used in the Middle Ages to enrich the borders of illuminated manuscripts. This is particularly noticeable in the case of the Briony (Text-fig. 73). The conventional form of tendril here employed is also seen in other early work, such as the roof-painting of a Vine in the Chapel of St Andrew, Canterbury Cathedral, and some “Decorated” stained glass at Wells, both of which are considerably earlier in date than the `Herbarius Moguntinus.’
A more interesting series of figures, also illustrating the text of the Latin ` Herbarius,’ was published in Italy a little later. The wood-cuts are believed to be mostly derived from German originals. Text-figs. 6, 57, 65, 74, 75 and 76 are taken from a Venetian edition of 1499. These drawings are more ambitious than those in the original German issue, and, on the whole, the results are more naturalistic. The fern called ” Capillus Veneris,” which is probably in-tended for the Maidenhair, is represented hanging from rocks over water, just as it does in Devonshire caves to-day (Text-fig. 75). Another delightful wood-cut, almost in the Japanese style, is that of an Iris growing at the margin of a stream, from which a graceful bird is drinking.
In the very symmetrical drawing of the Peony (Text-fig. 57) there is an attempt to represent the tuberous roots, which are indicated in solid black. The no less symmetrical Waterlily (Text-fig. 65) is remarkable for its rhizome, on which the scars of the leaf bases are faithfully represented. This drawing is of interest, also, on account of its frank disregard of proportion. The flower stalks are drawn not more than twice as long as the breadth of the leaf! We may, I think, safely conclude that the draughtsman knew quite well that he was not representing the plant as it was, and that he intentionally gave a conventional rendering, which did not profess to be more than an indication of certain distinctive features of the plant. This attitude of the artist to his work, which is so different from that of the scientific draughtsman of the present day, is seen with great clearness in many of the drawings in mediæval manuscripts. For instance, a plant such as the Houseleek may be represented growing on the roof of a house—the plant being about three times the size of the building. No one would imagine that the artist was under the delusion that these proportions held good in nature. The little house was merely introduced in order to convey graphic information as to the habitat of the plant concerned, and the scale on which it was depicted was simply a matter of convenience. Before an art can be appreciated, its conventions must be accepted. It would be as absurd to quarrel with the illustrations we have just described, on account of their lack of proportion, as to condemn grand opera because, in real life, men and women do not converse in song. The idea of naturalistic drawings, in which the size of the parts should be shown in their true relations, was of comparatively late growth.
In 1485, the year following the first appearance of the Latin `Herbarius,’ the very important work known as the German `Herbarius,’ or ‘ Herbarius zu Teutsch,’ made its appearance at Mainz. As we pointed out in Chapter II, its illustrations, which are executed on a large scale, are often of remarkable beauty. Dr Payne considered some of them comparable to those of Brunfels in fidelity of drawing, though very inferior in wood-cutting. They are distinctly more realistic than even those of the Venetian edition of the Latin ` Herbarius,’ to which we have just referred. It is interesting, for instance, to compare the drawings of the Dodder (Text-figs. 76 and 77) in the two works. Other excellent drawings are those of the Winter Cherry (Text-fig. 78), Iris (Text-fig. 7), Lily, Chicory, Comfrey and Peony.
A pirated second edition of the `Herbarius zu Teutsch’ appeared at Augsburg only a few months after the publication of the first at Mainz. The figures, which are roughly copied from those of the original edition, are very inferior to them. In fact, the Mainz wood-cuts of 1485 excel those of all subsequent issues.
In the `Ortus Sanitatis’ of 1491, about two-thirds of the drawings of plants are copied from the ` Herbarius zu Teutsch.’ They are often much spoiled in the process, and it is evident that the copyist frequently failed to grasp the intention of the original artist. The wood-cut of the Dodder (Text-fig. 8o), for instance, is lamentably inferior to that in the `Herbarius zu Teutsch’ (Text-fig. 77). There is often a tendency, in the later work, to make the figures occupy the space in a more decorative fashion ; for instance, where the stalk in the original drawing is simply cut across obliquely at the base, we find in the ` Ortus Sanitatis’ that its pointed end is continued into a conventional flourish (cf. the figures of the Winter Cherry in the two works, Text-figs. 78 and 79). Among the original figures many, as we have already indicated, represent purely mythical subjects.
The use of a black background, against which the stalks and leaves form a contrast in white, which we noticed in the Book of Nature,’ is carried further in the ` Ortus Sanitatis.’ This is shown particularly well in the Tree of Paradise (Text-fig. 12) and also in Text-figs. 10 and 81. No consistent method is followed in the coarse shading which is employed. In some cases there seems to have been an attempt at the convention, used so successfully by the Japanese, of darkening the underside of the leaf, but, sometimes, in the same figure, certain leaves are treated in this way, and others not. In some of the genre pictures, Noah’s Ark trees are introduced, with crowns consisting entirely of parallel horizontal lines, decreasing in length from below upwards, so as to give a triangular form.
An edition of the `Ortus Sanitatis,’ which was published in Venice in 151 I, is illustrated in great part with woodcuts based on the original figures. They have, however, a very different appearance, since a great deal of shading is introduced, and in some cases parallel lines are laid in with considerable dexterity.
`The Grete Herball’ and a number of works of the early sixteenth century derived from the `Herbarius zu Teutsch,’ the ` Ortus Sanitatis,’ and similar sources, are of no importance in the history of botanical illustration, since scarcely any of their figures are original. The oft-repeated set of wood-cuts, ultimately derived from the ` Herbarius zu Teutsch,’ were also used to illustrate Hieronymus Braunschweig’s Distillation Book (Liber de arte distillandi de Simplicibus, 1500). That the conventional figures of the period did not satisfy the botanist is shown by some interesting remarks by Hieronymus at the conclusion of his work. He tells the reader that he must attend to the text rather than the figures, ” for the figures are nothing more than a feast for the eyes, and for the information of those who cannot read or write.”
During the first three decades of the sixteenth century, the art of botanical illustration was practically in abeyance in Europe. Such books as were published were chiefly supplied with mere copies of older wood-cuts. But, in 1530, an entirely new era was inaugurated with the appearance of Brunfels’ great work, the ` Herbarum vivæ eicones,’ in which a number of plants native to Germany, or commonly cultivated there, were drawn with a beauty and fidelity which have rarely been surpassed (Text-figs. 22, 23, 24, 25, 66, 82, 83, 84). It is interesting to recall that the date 1530 is often taken, in the study of other arts (e.g. stained glass), as the limit of the “Gothic” period, and the beginning of the ” Renaissance.”
Brunfels’ illustrations represent a notable advance on any previous botanical wood-cuts, so much so, indeed, that the suddenness of the improvement seems to call for some special explanation. On taking a broader view of the subject, we find that, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, there was a marked advance in all the branches of book illustration, and not merely in the botanical side with which we are here concerned. This impetus seems to have been due to the fact that many of the best artists, above all Albrecht Dürer, began at that period to draw for wood-engraving, whereas in the fifteenth century the ablest men had shown a tendency to despise the craft and to hold aloof from it.
The engravings in Brunfels’ herbal and the fine books which succeeded it, should not be considered as if they were an isolated manifestation, but should be viewed in relation to other contemporary and even earlier plant drawings, which were not intended for book illustrations. Some of the most remarkable are those by Albrecht Dürer, which were produced before the appearance of Brunfels’ herbal, during the first thirty years of the sixteenth century. In each of his coloured drawings of sods of turf, known as “das grosse Rasenstück,” and “das kleine Rasenstück,” a tangled group of growing plants is portrayed exactly as it occurred in nature, with a marvellous combination of artistic charm and scientific accuracy. Prof. Killermann has been at pains to identify the genus and species of almost every plant represented, and has described the drawings as ” das erste Denkmal der Pflanzenükologie.” In 1526, Dürer carried out a beautiful series of plant drawings, among the most famous of which are those of the Columbine, and the Greater Celandine. The former is reproduced on a small scale in Plate XVI I ; it is scarcely possible to imagine a more perfect ” habit drawing ” of a plant.
In Italy, Leonardo da Vinci’s exquisite studies of plants, of which Plate XVI I I is an example, must also have pointed the way to a better era of herbal illustration. In his work, the artistic interest predominates over the botanical to a greater extent than is the case with D Durer’s drawings. It is strange to think that numerous editions of the ‘ Ortus Sanitatis’ and similar books, with their crude and primitive wood-cuts, should have been published while such an artist as Leonardo da Vinci was at the zenith of his powers. If internal evidence alone were available, it might plausibly be maintained that the engravings in the ‘ Ortus Sanitatis’ and the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci were centuries apart.
We are thus led to the conclusion that, though the engravings in Brunfels’ herbal are separated from previous botanical figures by an almost impassable gulf, they should not be regarded as a sudden and inexplicable develop-ment. The art of naturalistic plant drawing had arrived independently at what was perhaps its high-water mark of excellence, but it is in Brunfels’ great work that we find it, for the first time, applied to the illustration of a botanical book.
The illustrations in Brunfels’ herbal were engraved, and probably drawn also, by Hans Weiditz, or Guiditius, some of whose work has been ascribed to Albrecht Dürer.
The title ` Herbarum vivae eicones’—` Living Pictures of Plants ‘—indicates the most distinctive feature of the book, namely that the artist went direct to nature, instead of regarding the plant world through the eyes of previous draughtsmen. This characteristic is best appreciated on comparing Brunfels’ figures with those of his predecessors. His picture of the Waterlily (Text-fig. 66), for example, contrasts notably with that of the same subject from the Venetian ` Herbarius’ (Text-fig. 65). In the former the artist has caught the exact look of the leaves and stalks, buoyed up by the water. Throughout the work, the drawing seems to be of a slightly higher quality than the actual engraving; the lines are, to use the technical term, occasion-ally somewhat rotten ” or even broken.
In one respect the welcome reaction from the conventional and generalised early drawings went almost too far. Many of Brunfels’ wood-cuts were done from imperfect specimens, in which, for example, the leaves had withered or had been damaged by insects. This is clearly shown in Text-fig. 84. The artist’s ambition was evidently limited to representing the specimen he had before him, whether it was typical or not. The notion had not then been grasped that the ideal botanical drawing avoids the peculiarities of any individual specimen, and seeks to portray the characters really typical of the species. These characters can sometimes only be arrived at by a comparison of numerous specimens.
From the figures here reproduced a good idea of the style of Weiditz can be obtained. His line is usually firm and broad, and but little shading is employed. The chief merit of the drawings lies in their crisp and virile outlines. Regarded from the point of view of decorative book illustration, the beautiful drawings of the period under consideration sometimes failed to reach the standard set by earlier work. The very strong, black, velvety line of many of the fifteenth century wood-engravings, and the occasional use of solid black backgrounds (cf. Text-fig. 81) give a great sense of richness, especially in combination with the black letter type, with which they harmonise so admirably. A page bearing such illustrations is often more satisfying to the eye than one in which the desire to express the subtleties of plant form, in realistic fashion, has led to the use of a more delicate line. However, the primary object of the herbal illustrations was, after all, a scientific and not a decorative one, and, from this point of view, the gain in realism more than compensates for the loss in the harmonious balance of black and white.
Our chronological survey of the chief botanical wood-cuts brings us next to those published by Egenolph in 1533, to illustrate Rhodion’s ‘ Kreutterbûch.’ These have sometimes been regarded as of considerable importance, almost comparable, in fact, with those of Brunfels. A careful examination of these wood-engravings leads, how-ever, to the conclusion that practically all the chief figures in Egenolph’s book have been copied from those of Brunfels, but on a smaller scale, and reversed. It is true that the style of engraving is different, and that, as Hatton has pointed out, Egenolph’s flowing, easy, almost brush-like line is very distinct from that of Weiditz. But the fact of the plagiarism remains. The two figures here reproduced —the Lesser Celandine (Text-fig. 33) and the Hart’s-tongue Fern (Text-fig. 85)—are reduced copies from Brunfels.
It is interesting to notice that, as the third part of Brunfels’ great work had not appeared when Egenolph’s book was published, the latter must have been at a loss for figures of the plants which Brunfels had reserved for his third volume. We find that in the case of one such plant, the Asparagus, he solved the problem by going back to the old familiar wood-cut which had done duty in the `Ortus Sanitatis’ and the ` Herbarius zu Teutsch.’
In the third volume of Brunfels’ herbal (which appeared after his death) there is a small figure, that of “Auricula muris,” which differs conspicuously in style from the other engravings, and which appears to represent a case in which the tables were turned, and a figure was borrowed from Egenolph.
In his later books, Egenolph used wood-cuts pirated from those of Fuchs and Bock, which we must now consider.
In the work of Leonhard Fuchs (Frontispiece) plant drawing, as an art, may be said to have reached its culminating point. It is true that, at a later period, when the botanical importance of the detailed structure of the flower and fruit was recognised, figures were produced which conveyed exacter and more copious information on these points than did those of Fuchs. Nevertheless, at least in the opinion of the present writer, the illustrations to Fuchs’ herbals (` De historia stirpium,’ 1542, and ` New Kreziterbûch,’ 1543) represent the high-water mark of that type of botanical drawing which seeks to express the . individual character and habit of each species, treating the plant broadly as a whole, and not laying more stress upon the reproductive than the vegetative organs.
Fuchs’ figures are on so large a scale that the plant frequently had to be represented as curved, in order to fit it into the folio page. The illustrations here reproduced (Text-figs. 30, 31, 32, 58, 69, 70, 86, 87, 88) do not give an entirely just idea of their beauty, since the line employed in the original is so thin that it is ill-adapted to the reduction necessary here. If the drawings have any fault, it is perhaps to be found in the somewhat blank and unfinished look, occasionally produced when unshaded outline drawings are used on so large a scale. This is the case for instance in the figure of the Aloe. It may be that Fuchs had in mind the possibility that the purchaser might wish to colour the work, and to fill in a certain amount of detail for himself. The existing copies of this and other old herbals often have the figures painted, generally in a distressingly crude and heavy fashion. The colouring in many cases appears to have been done at a very early date. In the octavo edition of Fuchs’ herbal published in 1545, small versions of the large wood-cuts appeared. I t is perhaps invidious to draw distinctions between the work of Fuchs and that of Brunfels, since they are both of such exquisite quality. However, merely as an expression of personal opinion, the present writer must confess to feeling that there is a finer sense of power and freedom of handling about the illustrations in Fuchs’ herbal than those of Brunfels.
Sometimes in Fuchs’ figures a wonderfully decorative spirit is shown, as in the case of the Earth-nut Pea (Text-fig. 87) which fills the rectangular space almost in the manner of an all-over ” wall-paper pattern. It must not be forgotten, when discussing wood-cuts, that the artist, who drew upon the block for the engraver, was working under peculiar conditions. It was impossible for him to be unmindful of the boundaries of the block, when these took the form, as it were, of miniature precipices under his hand. These boundaries marked out the exact limit of space which the figure could occupy. It is not surprising, under these circumstances, that the artist who drew upon the block should often seem to have been obsessed by its rectangularity, and should have accommodated his drawing to its form in a way that was unnecessary and far from realistic, though sometimes very decorative. This is exemplified in the figure of the Earth-nut Pea, to which we have just referred and also in Text-figs. 41, 44, 62, 92, 95, ioi, etc. The writer has been told by an artist accustomed, in former years, to draw upon the wood for the engraver, that to avoid a rectangular effect required a distinct effort of will. At the present day, when photographic methods of reproduction are almost exclusively used, the artist is no longer oppressively conscious of the exact outline of the space which his figure will occupy.
The figures here reproduced show how great a variety of subjects were successfully dealt with in Fuchs’ work. The Cabbage (Text-fig. 30) is realised in a way that brings home to us the intrinsic beauty of this somewhat prosaic subject. In the Wild Arum (Text-fig. 88) the fruit and a dissection of the inflorescence are represented, so that, botanically, the drawing reaches a high level. Fuchs’ wood-cuts are nearly all original, but that of the White Waterlily appears to have been founded upon Brunfels’ figure.
We have so far spoken, for the sake of brevity, as if Fuchs actually executed the figures himself. This, how-ever, was not the case. He employed two draughtsmen, Heinrich Füllmaurer, who drew the plants from nature, and Albrecht Meyer, who copied the drawings on to the wood, and also an engraver, Veit Rudolf Speckle, who actually cut the blocks. Fuchs evidently delighted to honour his colleagues, for at the end of the book there are portraits of all three at work (Text-fig. 89). The artist is drawing a plant with a brush fixed in a quill.
The drawing and painting of flowers is sometimes dismissed almost contemptuously, as though it were a humble art in which an inferior artist, incapable of the more exacting work of drawing from the life,” might be able to excel. The falsity of this view is shown by the fact that the greatest of flower painters have generally been men who also did admirable figure work. Fantin-Latour is a striking modern instance, and one has but to glance at the studies of Leonardo da Vinci (e.g. Plate XV I I I) and Albrecht Dürer (e.g. Plate XVII) to feel that the finest plant drawings can only be produced by a master hand, capable of achieving success on more ambitious lines. The wood-engravings in Fuchs’ herbal are a case in point. The portraits which also illustrate the book (Frontispiece and Text-fig. 89) show that the talents of the artists whom he employed were not confined to plant drawing, but were also strong in the direction of vigorous and able portraiture.
Fuchs’ gratitude to his assistants is expressed in the preface to ‘De historia stirpium,’ where he makes some remarks upon the illustrations, which may be translated as follows :
“As far as concerns the pictures themselves, each of which is positively delineated according to the features and likeness of the living plants, we have taken peculiar care that they should be most perfect, and, moreover, we have devoted the greatest diligence to secure that every plant should be depicted with its own roots, stalks, leaves, flowers, seeds and fruits. Furthermore we have purposely and deliberately avoided the obliteration of the natural form of the plants by shadows, and other less necessary things, by which the delineators sometimes try to win artistic glory : and we have not allowed the craftsmen so to indulge their whims as to cause the drawing not to correspond accurately to the truth. Vitus Rudolphus Specklin, by far the best engraver of Strasburg, has admirably copied the wonderful industry of the draughtsmen, and has with such excellent craft expressed in his engraving the features of each drawing, that he seems to have contended with the draughtsman for glory and victory.”
How dull and colourless the phrases of modern scientific writers appear, beside the hot-blooded, arrogant enthusiasm of the sixteenth century!
Fuchs’ wood-cuts were extensively pirated, especially those on a reduced scale, which were published in his edition of 1545. As we have mentioned on p. 55, Hieronymus Bock [or Tragus] undoubtedly made use of them in the second edition of his `Kreuter Bûch’ (1546) which was the next important, illustrated botanical work to appear after Fuchs’ herbal. An examination of the wood-cuts in Bock’s herbal seems, however, to show that his illustrations have more claim to originality than is often supposed. The figures of Wintergreen (Text-fig. 90), Moonwort (Text-fig. 91), and Strawberry (Text-fig. 27), here reproduced, are markedly different from those of Fuchs, although, in the case of the first, Fuchs’ wood-cut may have been used to some extent. The artist employed by Bock, as he himself tells us, was David Kandel, a young lad, the son of a burgher of Strasburg. His drawings are often of interest, apart from their botanical aspect. For instance, the picture of an Oak tree includes, appropriately enough, a swine-herd with his swine, the Chestnut tree gives occasion for a hedgehog (Text-fig. 92) and, in another case, a monkey and several rabbits are introduced, one of the latter holding a shield bearing the artist’s initials. The wood-cut of Trapa, the Bull-nut (Text-fig. 29), is a highly imaginative production which clearly shows that neither the artist nor the author had ever seen the plant in question.
In general character, Bock’s illustrations are neater and more conventional than those of Brunfels or Fuchs. The crowns of the trees are often made practically square so as to fit the block (Text-fig. 92). The figures in earlier works, such as the ` Ortus Sanitatis,’ are recalled in Kandel’s dis-regard of the proportion between the size of the tree, and that of the leaves and fruits.
In point of time, the illustrations to the early editions of Mattioli’s Commentaries on the Six Books of Dioscorides follow fairly closely on those of Fuchs, but they are extremely different in style (Text-figs. 41, 42, 93, 94). Details such as the veins and hairs of the leaves are often elaborately worked out, while shading is much used, a considerable mastery of parallel lines being shown. The general effect is occasionally somewhat flat and dull. Some of the drawings suggest that they may have been done from dried plants, and in others the treatment is over-crowded. But, in spite of these defects, they form a markedly individual contribution, which is of great importance in the history of botanical illustration.
Numerous editions of Mattioli’s work appeared in various languages. In its earlier form the book had only small figures (e.g. Text-figs. 41, 42, 93, 94), but in some later editions, notably that which appeared at Venice in 1565, there are large illustrations which are reproduced on a reduced scale in Text-figs. 43, 44, 95. These wood-cuts resemble the smaller ones in character, but are more decorative in effect, and often remarkably fine. Whereas in the work of Brunfels and Fuchs, the beautiful line of a single stalk is often the key-note of the whole drawing, in the work of Mattioli, the eye most frequently finds its satisfaction in the rich massing of foliage, fruit and flowers, suggestive of southern luxuriance. Many of his figures would require little modification to form the basis of a tapestry pattern.
Another remarkable group of wood-engravings consists of those published by Plantin in connection with the work of the three Low Country herbalists, Dodoens, de l’Écluse and de l’Obel. In the original edition of Dodoens’ herbal (` Crûydeboeck,’ published by Vanderloe in 1554), more than half the illustrations were taken from Fuchs’ octavo edition of 1545. But eventually, as we have pointed out in Chapter IV, Vanderloe parted with Fuchs’ blocks. After this, Plantin took over the publication of Dodoens’ books, and in his final collected works (` Stirpium historie pemptades sex,’ 1583) the majority of the illustrations were original, and were carried out under the author’s eye (Text-figs. 37, 38, 96, 97). A few (namely those marked in the Pemptades, ” Ex Codice Caesareo “) are copied from Juliana Anicia’s manuscript of Dioscorides to which we have more than once referred. Some are also borrowed from the works of de l’Écluse and de l’Obel, since Plantin was publisher to all three botanists, and the wood-blocks engraved for them were regarded as, to some extent, forming a common stock. In fact it is often difficult to decide to which author any given figure originally belonged. This difficulty is enhanced by the fact that some were actually made for one and then used for another, before the work for which they had been originally destined was published.
There is little to be said about de l’Obel’s figures, which partook of the character of the rest of the wood-cuts for which Plantin made himself responsible. The Yellow Waterlily (Text-fig. 67) is given here as an example.
The wood-cuts illustrating the comparatively small books of de l’Écluse are perhaps the most interesting of the figures associated with this trio of botanists. The Dragon Tree (Text-fig. 98), “Sedum majus” (Text-fig. 59) and Job’s Tears (Text-fig. 39) are examples from his book on the plants of Spain, which appeared in 1576.
The popularity of the large collection of blocks got together by the publishing house of Plantin is shown by the frequency with which they were copied. Dr B. Daydon Jackson has pointed out that the wood-cut of the Clematis, which first appeared in Dodoens’ ` Pemptades’ of 1583, reappears, either in identical form, or more or less accurately copied, in works by de l’Obel, de l’Écluse, Gerard, Parkinson, Jean Bauhin, Chabræus and Petiver. The actual blocks themselves appear to have been used for the last time when Johnson’s edition of Gerard’s herbal made its final appearance in London in 1636.
Another school of plant illustration is represented in the work of Gesner and Camerarius. As we mentioned on p. 92, Gesner’s drawings were not published during his lifetime, but some of them were eventually produced by Camerarius, with the addition of figures of his own, to illustrate his ` Epitome Matthioli’ of 1586 (Text-figs. 72 and 99) and also his later work. In 1751, C. J. Trew published a collection of Gesner’s drawings, many of which had never been seen before ; but even then, it proved impossible to separate the work of the two botanists with any completeness, since Gesner’s drawings and blocks had passed through the hands of Camerarius, who had incorporated his own with them. A few wood-cuts however, which appeared as an appendix to Simler’s Life of Gesner, are undoubtedly Gesner’s own work. One of these is reproduced in Text-fig. 48.
Professor Treviranus, whose work on the use of wood-engravings as botanical illustrations is so well known, considered that some of the drawings published by Camerarius in connection with his last work (` Hortus medicus et philosophicus,’ 1588) were among the best ever produced. Examples are shown in Text-figs. 34, 35, 71. Treviranus pointed out that one of their great merits lay in the selection of good, typical specimens as models. These figures are very much more botanical than those of any previous author ; in fact—as Hatton has pointed out in ` The Craftsman’s Plant-Book ‘—they are beginning to become too botanical for the artist ! Camerarius often gives detailed analyses of the flowers and fruit on an enlarged scale (Text-fig. 99). Among the illustrations here reproduced will be seen one (Text-fig. 100) in which the seedling of the Rose of Jericho is drawn side by side with the mature plant, and another (Text-fig. 35) in which the structure of a germinating Date is shown with great clearness. This interest in seedlings gives a modern touch to the work of Camerarius.
A number of wood-blocks were cut at Lyons to illustrate d’Aléchamps’ great work, the ‘ Historia generalis plantarum,’ 1586-7. Many of these figures were taken from the herbals of Fuchs, Mattioli and Dodoens, but they were often embellished with representations of insects, and detached leaves and flowers, scattered over the block with no apparent object except to fill the space. This peculiarity, which is shown in the engraving of Ornithogalum reproduced in Text-fig. 51, appears also in the illustrations of a book on Simples, by Joannes Mesua, published in Venice in 1581. In certain other wood-cuts in d’Aléchamps’ herbal, solid black is used in an effective fashion. This is the case for instance in Text-fig. 1o1, which is also interesting since two of the leaves bear the initials “M” and “H,” which were possibly those of the artist.
Among less important botanical wood-engravings of the sixteenth century we may mention those in the works of Pierre Belon, such as `De arboribus’ (1553). In this book there are some graceful wood-cuts of trees, one of which is reproduced in Text-fig. 102. The initial letters used in the present volume are taken from another of Belon’s books’.
Some specimens of the quaint little illustrations to Castor Durante’s `Herbario Nuovo’ of 1585 are shown in Text-figs. 45, 68 and 103. It is interesting to compare his drawing of the Waterlily (Text-fig. 68) with those of the Venetian edition of the Latin ‘ Herbarius’ of 1499 (Text-fig. 65), ‘The Grete Herball’ (Text-fig. 21), Brunfels’ ` Herbarum viva eicones’ of 1530 (Text-fig. 66) and de l’Obel’s ‘ Kruydtbceck’ of 1581 (Text-fig. 67).
The engravings in Porta’s ‘Phytognomonica’ (1588) and in Prospero Alpino’s little book on Egyptian plants (1592) are of good quality. Some curious examples of the former, which will be discussed at greater length in the next chapter, are shown in Text-figs. 109 and i 1o, and the Glasswort, one of the best wood-cuts among the latter, is reproduced in Text-fig. 47.
Passing on to the seventeenth century, we find that the ` Prodromos’ of Gaspard Bauhin (162o) contains a number of original illustrations, but they are not very remarkable, and often have rather the appearance of having been drawn from pressed specimens. Two examples of these wood-cuts will be found in Text-figs. 49 and 62. The former is interesting as being an early representation of the Potato.
Parkinson’s ` Paradisus Terrestris’ of 1629 contains a considerable proportion of original figures, besides others borrowed from previous writers. The engravings were made in England by Switzer. They are poor in quality, and the innovation of representing a number of species in one large wood-cut is not very successful. Text-fig. 55 shows a twig of Barberry, which is but a single item in one of these large illustrations.
Among still later wood-engravings, we may mention the large, rather coarse cuts in Aldrovandi’s `Dendrologia’ of 1667, one of which, the figure of the Orange, or ” Mala Aurantia Chinensia,” is reproduced in Text-fig. 104, on a greatly reduced scale.
In the present chapter no attempt has been made to discuss the illustrations of those herbals (e.g. the works of Turner, Tabernmmontanus, Gerard, etc.) in which most of the wood-cuts are copied from previous books. In the majority of such cases, the source of the figures has already been indicated in Chapter IV.
This brief review of the history of botanical wood-cuts leads us to the conclusion that between 1530 and 1630, that is to say during the hundred years when the herbal was at its zenith, the number of sets of wood-engravings which were pre-eminent—either on account of their intrinsic qualities, or because they were repeatedly copied from book to book—was strictly limited. We might almost say that there were only five collections of wood-cuts of plants of really first-rate importance—those, namely, of Brunfels, Fuchs, Mattioli, and Plantin, with those of Gesner and Camerarius, all of which were published in the sixty years between 1530 and 1590. The wood-blocks of the two botanists last mentioned cannot be considered apart from one another ; from the scientific point of view they show a marked advance, in the introduction of enlarged sketches of the flowers and fruit, in addition to the habit drawings. Plantin’s set included those blocks which were engraved for the herbals of de I’Obel, de l’Écluse, and the later works of Dodoens.
At the close of the sixteenth century, wood cutting on the Continent was distinctly on the wane, and had begun to be superseded by engraving on metal. The earliest botanical work, in which copper-plate etchings were used as illustrations, is said to be Fabio Colonna’s ` Phytobasanos’ of 1592. These etchings, two of which are shown in Text-figs. 46 and 1o5, are on a small scale, but are extremely beautiful and accurate. The details of the flowers and fruit are often shown separately, the figures, in this respect, being comparable with those of Gesner and Camerarius, though, owing to their small size, they do not convey so much botanical information. In a later book of Colonna’s, the ` Ekphrasis,’ analyses of the floral parts are given in even greater detail than in the `Phytobasanos.’ Colonna expressly mentions that he used wild plants as models wherever possible, because cultivation is apt to produce alterations in the form. The decorative border, surrounding each of the figures reproduced, was not printed from the copper.
In the seventeenth century, a large number of botanical books, illustrated by means of copper-plates, were produced. The majority of these were published late in the century, and thus scarcely come within our purview. A few of the earlier ones may, however, be referred to at this point. In 1611 Paul Renaulme’s ‘Specimen Historia Plantarum’ was published in Paris, but though this work was illustrated with good copper-plates, the effect was somewhat spoilt by the transparency of the paper. Two years later appeared the `Hortus Eystettensis,’ by Basil Besler, an apothecary of Nuremberg. It is a large work with enormous illustrations, mostly of mediocre quality. In the succeeding year, 1614, a book was published which has been described, probably with justice, as containing some of the best copper-plate figures of plants ever produced. This was the ` Hortus Floridus’ of Crispian de Passe, a member of a famous family of engravers. Like Parkinson’s ‘Paradisus Terrestris,’ into which some of the figures are copied, it is more of the nature of a garden book than a herbal.
In 1615 an English edition of Crispian de Passe’s work was published at Utrecht, under the title of `A Garden of Flowers.’ The plates are the same as those in the original work. The artist is particularly successful with the bulbous and tuberous plants, the cultivation of which has long been such a specialty of Holland. Plate X I X is a characteristic example, but only part of the original picture is here re-produced. The soil on which the plants grow is often shown, and the horizon is placed very low, so that they stand up against the sky. This convention seems to have been characteristic, not only of the plant drawings of the Dutch artists, but also of their landscapes. In the paintings of Cuyp and Paul Potter, the sky-line is sometimes so low that it is seen between the legs of the cows and horses. This treatment was no doubt suggested by life in a flat country, but it was carried to such an extreme that the artist’s eye-level must have been almost on the ground !
The purchaser of ` The Garden of Flowers’ receives detailed directions for the painting of the figures, which he is expected to carry out himself. The book is divided into four parts, appropriate to the four seasons, and each part is preceded by an encouraging verse intended to keep alive the owner’s enthusiasm for his task. The stanza at the beginning of the last section seems to show some anxiety on the part of the author, lest the reader should have begun to weary over the lengthy occupation of colouring the plates. It reads as follows :-
” If hethertoe (my frende) you have,
Performde the taske in hand :
With toy proceede, this last will be
The best, when all is scande.”
As we have already mentioned, it is not our intention to deal with the books published in the latter part of the seventeenth century. We may, however, for the sake of completeness, mention two or three examples in order to show the kind of work that was then being done. Paolo Boccone’s Icones et Descriptiones’ of 1674 was illustrated with copper-plates, some of which were remarkably subtle and delicate, while others were rather carelessly executed. Among slightly later works, we may refer to a quaint little Dutch herbal by Stephen Blankaart, and to the ‘ Paradisus Batavus’ of Paul Hermann, both of which belong to the last decade of the century. The latter, which is an “Elzevir” with very good copper-plates, was published after the author’s death, and dedicated, by his widow, to Henry Compton, Bishop of London.
In the plates which illustrate Blankaart’s herbal, a landscape and figures are often introduced to form a back-ground, and the low horizon, to which we referred in speaking of the ` Hortus Floridus,’ is a very conspicuous feature. The picture of the Winter Cherry is here re-produced as an example (Text-fig. Io6). As showing the complete revolution in the style of plant illustration in two hundred years, it is interesting to compare this drawing with that of the same subject in the German ‘Herbarius’ of 1485 (Text-fig. 78). It must be confessed that the fifteenth-century wood-cut, though far less detailed and painstaking, seizes the general character of the plant in a way that the seventeenth-century copper-plate somewhat misses.
Etching and engraving on metal are well adapted to very delicate and detailed work, but from the point of view of book-illustration, wood-engraving is generally more effective. In the latter the lines are raised, and the method of printing is thus exactly the same as in the case of type, while in the former the process is reversed and the lines are incised. As a result, there is a harmony about a book illustrated with wood-cuts which cannot, in the nature of things, be attained, when such different processes as printing from raised type, and from incised metal, are brought together in the same volume.