Botanical Illustrators at Work

Leonhart Fuchs' De historia stirpium commentarii insignes

Leonhart Fuchs’ De historia stirpium commentarii insignes 1542

German physician and botanist Leonhard Fuchs published De historia stirpium (On the History of Plants) in Basel at the office of printer Michael Isengrin. Fuchs’s herbal was illustrated with full-page woodcut illustrations drawn by Albrecht Meyer, copied onto the blocks by Heinrich Füllmaurer and cut by Veit Rudolf Speckle; the artists’ self-portraits appear on the final leaf.

Describing and illustrating 400 native German and 100 foreign plants– wild and domestic—in alphabetical order, with a discussion of their medical uses, De historia stirpium was probably inspired by the pioneering effort of Otto Brunfels, whose Herbarum vivae imagines had appeared twelve years earlier.  “These two works have rightly been ascribed importance in the history of botany, and for two reasons.  In the first place they established the requisites of botanical illustration—verisimilitude in form and habit, and accuracy of significant detail. . . . Secondly they provided a corpus of plant species which were identifiable with a considerable degree of certainty by any reasonably careful observer, no matter by what classical or vernacular names they were called. . .”
(Alan Morton, History of Botanical Science).

Fuchs’s herbal is also remarkable for containing the first glossary of botanical terms, for providing the first depictions of a number of American plants, including pumpkins and maize, and for its generous tribute to the artists Meyer, Füllmaurer and Speckle, whose self-portraits appear on the last leaf.  This tribute to the artists may be unique among sixteenth century scientific works, many of which were illustrated by unidentified artists, or artists identified by name only. It is especially unusual for the name of the artist who transferred the drawings onto the woodblocks to be recorded, let alone for that artist to be portrayed.

The plant species Fuchsia, named after Fuchs, was discovered on Santo Domingo in the Caribbean in 1696 by the French scientist Dom Charles Plumier, who published the first description. The color fuchsia is also named for Fuchs, describing the purplish-red of the shrub’s flowers.

“Fuchs’s herbal exists in both hand-colored and uncolored versions. While some colored copies may have been painted by their owners after purchase, as was sometimes done in books of this nature, there is sufficient evidence to show that copies were also colored for the publisher Isingrin, who presumably made use of the artist’s original drawings. Such ‘original colored’ copies possess many features in common—for example, the illustration of the rose has the left shoot bearing white flowers and the right shoot red flowers, and the plum tree shows yellow fruits on the left, blue fruits in the center, and reddish fruits on the right—and it is these features that permit one to distinguish between original colored copies and those colored later by private owners. The coloring in the colored copies issued by the publisher accords well with Fuchs’s descriptions in the text, which suggest that Fuchs had some control over the painting”
(Norman, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine [1995] no. 17, pp. 66-67).

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 846.
Secret Gardener is grateful to the wonderful website “The History of Information,” and the generous and learned Jeremy Norman.

Advertisements

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/botanical-illustrators-at-work/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Wonderful post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s