about the ILLUSTRATIONS & ILLUSTRATORS
a brief history of botanical illustration ....................
This version of Dioscorides is richly illustrated with pictures of plants and natural history objects, primarily woodcuts from the 16th and 19th centuries, and copper engravings or lithographs from the 19th century. We know very little of the artists who made the illustrations reproduced here. For example, in Engler's voluminous writings most paintings by Joseph Pohl are unsigned, thus preventing accurate attribution. Some information about the artists represented herein, with the context in which they worked, is given below.
Botanical illustrators originally documented plants for medicinal purposes. These early scientific drawings of plants assisted the searcher after simples ie. species of herbs. Illustrations in the magnificent sixth-century manuscript herbal Codex Vindobonensis exhibit a standard of excellence unusual in its day, and not exceeded for nearly a millenium. During this 'dreary' millenium most manuscripts were not illustrated, or included pen drawings copied repeatedly by scribes with no artistic skills. Early printed herbals copied these indifferent plant outlines.
Realistic plant drawings appeared towards the end of the fourteenth century, Albrecht Durer and Leonardo da Vinci being the best-known artists. Herbarius zu Teutsch (the German Herbarius) 1485 was the first printed herbal with plant drawings showing greater freedom and realism. Next in significance is Otto Brunfels' Herbarum vivae eicones (living portraits of plants), 3 volumes 1530-1536, with illustrations by Hans Weiditz (1488 to 1534) a pupil of Albrecht Durer -- the drawings transferred to woodcuts by excellent engravers. Brunfels paid tribute to the artist at the beginning of the first volume, but dismissed the illustrations as dead lines inferior to his own truthful text descriptions. Weiditz drew actual plants with scientific correctness, including blemishes and deformities in great detail. The figures seem drawn in pen, with fine, deep strokes. According to Wilfred Blunt 'His work must ever remain the high-water mark of woodcutting employed in the service of botanical illustration'. From 1522 Strassburg publishers Schott, Knoblauch, Kopfel and Beck used professional illustrators, including Weiditz, mainly for botanical and zoological works. Weiditz' skills were in great demand, illustrating numerous books including Albertus Magnus, Wunderbar naturliche wirckungen 1531, and Konrad von Megenberg's Puch der Natur 1536. These plates were pirated by Frankfurt publisher Christian Egenolph for herbals edited by Eucharius d J Rossllin (and later Theodoric Dorsten), and published as Kreutterbuch 1533 with later editions, titles and translations. From 1562 copies of these woodcuts appeared in the journal published by Egenolph, Plantarum arborum fruticum et herbarum effigies. Some four hundred years after they were drawn, about seventy original pen drawings by Weiditz, painted in watercolours, were discovered in the herbarium of Felix Platter in Berne. It was noted that the woodcuts' variable lines reflected the nervous energy of Weiditz's artistry, and that the engraver of the woodblocks had taken some liberties in copying, mainly to fit larger drawings on to the printed page, and deleting details of flowers and seeds.
Soon thereafter Leonhart Fuchs (1501 to 1566) published De historia stirpium 1542, a splendid folio volume, the illustrations of far greater value than the text. Unusually, credit is given to the artists -- Albrecht Meyer who drew the plants according to Fuchs' rigorous instructions, Heinrich Fullmaurer who transferred the drawings to wood blocks, and Veit Rudolf Speckle who cut the wood blocks. The plates dazzle with crisp, white paper, fine printing and layout, and elegant designs. With hundreds of full-page illustrations of plants, it is the earliest monumental flower-book. In the preface Fuchs writes about the illustrations: '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; and we have not allowed the craftsmen so to indulge their whims as to cause the drawings not to correspond accurately to the truth'. Speckle, 'by far the best engraver of Strasbourg', had a line often rigid and wiry, suitable for subsequent watercolour wash. Fuchs' artists idealized the plants, showing flowering and fruiting stages simultaneously, with life-sized plants including roots when possible, but with less detail, achieving unmatched clarity of line reproduction. The plates were copied or adapted by many later herbal writers including John Gerard, Tabernaemontanus, Dodoens, Bock, Turner, Lyte and Schinz, to the chagrin of Fuchs who saw his fine work used without acknowledgement, and mostly as inferior copies. Many scholars consider these the finest botanical woodcuts, though some prefer the sharp figures of Weiditz. Meyer's flowers are delicate, Weiditz' are bold; Meyer had a clinical perception, Weiditz approached individual plants with appreciation; Meyer was limited by Fuchs' insistence on precision without artistic expression and feeling. Perhaps that is why his illustrations were used for more than 200 years.
Although not new, copperplate etching was only employed for botanical illustration towards the end of the sixteenth century. Eventually this and other techniques replaced the use of woodblocks. However, wood-engraving flourished again for a while in the nineteenth century. Thomas Bewick (1753 to 1828) led this revival, using skills learnt as a copper engraver. He substituted hard boxwood for soft wood, engraving on the end grain of the wood. Perfecting this technique enabled the use of wood engraving for detailed illustrations, often made from photographs. Examples are found in Baillon's Histoire des plantes 1866-1895, and Anton Kerner von Marilaun's Pflanzenleben 1887-1891. Pflanzenleben contained some of the last of the fine woodcuts in botanical illustration. Continental engravers were as skilful as the British. The technical brilliance of these later wood engravings restored the technique to the status of an art, thus it avoided competing with photographic tone reproduction.
The Frenchman, Auguste Faguet (1841 to 1886), a prolific illustrator of the late nineteenth century, produced delicate botanical wood engravings of great accuracy. These drawings indicate true perspective, the careful craftsmanship making distant elements recede. He illustrated the extensive set of Henri Ernest Baillon's Histoire des plantes 1866-1895, including its many editions. Faguet's other work for Baillon included Recherches des coniferes 1860; Dictionnaire de botanique 1876-1892; 1186 woodcuts in Traite de botanique medicale phanerogamique 1883-1884; 370 woodcuts in Traite de botanique medicale cryptogamique 1889; Loganiacees 1856; and Bignoniacees 1864. Henri Faguet's talent also benefited Edouard Bureau's Monographie des bignoniacee 1864; Alfred Grandidier's monumental Histoire physique, naturelle et politique de Madagascar 1875; and Histoire naturelle des plantes 1886-1903. Among other artists Faguet also worked on a periodical, L'Horticulteur Francais, journal des amateurs et des interets horticoles 1851-1872. These fine woodcuts were superseded by renewed general use of metal printing plates for botanical illustrations. Thiebault assisted Faguet in illustrating Henri Baillon's Histoire des plantes 1866-1895. He also contributed engraved text figures to Dujardin-Beaumetz & Egasse's Les plantes medicinales indigenes ex exotique 1889, and his drawings appeared in The Floral Register, a periodical published from 1825 to 1851.
In Pflanzenleben 1887-1891 Anton Joseph Ritter Kerner von Marilaun (1831 to 1898) used a number of Austrian and German artists, their work interpreted as wood-engravings. This important two-volume work spawned several editions, including translations into English, Russian, Italian and Dutch. We know little of these artists, among whom are Adele von Kerner, Ernst Heyn (1841 to 1894), F Tegetmeyer, Hermann von Konigsbrunn (1823 to 1907), Eugen von Ransonnet (1838 to ? ), Ignaz Seelos (1827 to 1902), Joseph Selleny (1824 to 1875), K Springer, S Teuchmann, and Olof Winkler (1843 to 1895). Olof Winkler and Ernst Heyn assisted with the preparation of lithographs from illustrations (and chromolithographs from paintings) by Joseph Selleny and others. Anton Kerner von Marilaun illustrated his own Monographia Pulmoniarum 1878. Ernst Heyn illustrated Emil Adolf Rossmassler's Der Wald 1863, producing 117 copper engravings. Hermann von Konigsbrunn illustrated Franz Xaver Unger's Wissenschaftliche ergebnisse einer reise in Griechenland 1862. Ignaz Seelos made the lithographs and Joseph Selleny the frontispiece for Johann Joseph Peyritsch's Aroideae Maximilianae 1879. German professor Heinrich Moritz Willkomm (1821 to 1895), specialised in the botany of south-western Europe. He often illustrated his own works, and his coloured drawings are mainly of unusual plants from Spain, Portugal, and the Balearic Islands. His many publications include Recherches sur Globulariees 1850; Icones et descriptiones plantarum novarum 1852-1862; as well as Illustrationes florae Hispaniae 1881-1892 with coloured lithograph plates. AH Payne and A Eckstein occasionally provided him with illustrations.The well-travelled Otto Warburg (1859 to 1938), botanist and political activist, produced the richly illustrated Die pflanzenwelt 1913-1922, with figures by H Buffe, H Eichhorn, M Gurke, U Grimme amongst others, including some coloured plates. Warburg's extensive work emerged from his travels in south-eastern Asia, Oceania, Australia and southern Africa.
Heinrich Gustaf Adolf Engler (1844 to 1930) was the most prolific German botanical taxonomist. He published ambitiously and enthusiastically, using a number of artists to illustrate his works, including Joseph Pohl, an artist with apprenticeship as a wood-engraver. Engler noticed Pohl's talent very early, starting a collaboration of almost forty years. Amongst his prodigious output Josef Pohl (1864 to 1939) drew over 33,000 items in 6,000 figures for Engler's Die naturlichen pflanzenfamilien 1887-1914. His plants are finely and accurately executed, but without flair. This work is of particular value because many new plants were described for the first time. The drawings are plain but complement the lengthy Latin descriptions in this monumental production. The illustrations take on particular significance because many of the actual plants, delineated so carefully, were destroyed in the bombing of the Berlin Herbarium. Pohl illustrated other major works by Engler, including Das pflanzenreich 1900-1953; Die pflanzenwelt Afrikas 1908-1910; Monographien afrikanischer pflanzenfamilien 1898-1904; and most of the illustrations for the periodical Engler's Botanische jahrbucher 1881 et seq. Assisted by Gottfried Keller (1873 to 1945) and Karoly Rezso Soo von Bere (1903 to 1980), Pohl illustrated Friedrich Richard Rudolf Schlechter's Monographie und iconographie der orchideen 1928-1942; and Karl Moritz Schumann's Bluhende kakteen (Iconographia cactacearum) 1900-1921; and was one of many artists contributing (i.e. the orchid illustrations) to Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius' magnificent Flora Brasiliensis 1840-1906. Vogelmeyer and Henri Bocquillon also contributed some drawings to Engler's publications.
Jean Emmanuel Maurice le Maout illustrated his Atlas elementaire de botanique 1846; as well as Lecons elementaire de botanique 1844, including later editions. With Joseph Decaisne he wrote Flore elementaire des jardins et des champs 1855, translated by Mrs Hooker as General system of botany 1876. With P Bernard and L Couilhac, Maout's first book was published as Le jardin des plantes 1842-1843.
Botanical art highlights two opposing needs -- revealing the true physical character of a plant, and the illustrator's response to the beauty of the subject. Each artist balances the conflict of art versus science. Most botanical publications require large numbers of illustrations, demanding speed as well as accuracy, and a working knowledge of current printing technology. The illustrations selected for this volume appeal both scientifically and descriptively, while incorporating a decidedly decorative quality. They also had to survive the transition to digital format.
Gentiana from FUCHS (1545)
DIOSCORIDES DE MATERIA MEDICA - five books in one volume: New Modern English Translation. A few of the printed books are still available. See HOW TO ORDER page.
The translator holds copyright on the text but all illustrations are copyright-free.