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Herbals - Florilegia
Botanicals - Ornithology

Herbals Herbals

The first botanical books were herbals, works that were intended to instruct the reader on the medicinal value of plants. Prevalent in medieval Europe and still valued in the eighteenth century (see Elizabeth Blackwell's Curious Herbal also in this exhibition) herbals were primarily written by physicians, herbalists and apothecaries who provided information on the methods of identifying plants, extracting their useful properties and applying them to cure certain wounds or diseases.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, most of the plant illustrations were woodcuts, a relief method of producing an image that allowed the surface of the block to be inked and printed alongside the text rather than on a separate sheet. Woodcut illustrations were rarely fully realistic, and were often seriously inaccurate. It was customary for authors to employ the services of artists who copied images without referring to live specimens. As a consequence, designs that proved to be popular were used repeatedly as models that were then further altered and distorted.

Florilegia, books depicting cultivated plants, became popular in the seventeenth century, reflecting an increase in the appreciation of flowers for their aesthetic rather than utilitarian value. These flower books coincided with the rise of pleasure gardens cultivated by professional florists who specialized in breeding perfect specimens of flowers. Florilegia became popular at the same time as the art of producing illustrations through engraving was being perfected.

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