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Herbals - Florilegia
Botanicals - Ornithology

Pionia Herbarius Latinus. Venice: Simon Bevilaqua, 14 December 1499.

This is the first Venetian edition of the Herbarius Latinus, an important herbal compilation from classical, medieval and Arabic sources. The text is drawn primarily from the encyclopedic Speculum naturale of the Dominican scholar Vincent of Beauvais (d.1264), and was such a popular work that it was printed nearly a dozen times before 1500. The woodblock prints in this book were first used in a 1491 edition printed in Vincenza, and are typical of the simple early woodblock prints that show only a rough outline of the plant.

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Alsine Minima

Matthias de L'Obel (1538-1616). Icones Stirpium: seu Plantarum tam Exoticarum, quam indigenarum: in gratiam rei herbariae studiosorum in duas partes digestae: cum septem linguarum indicibus, ad diversarum nationum usum. Antwerp: Ex Officina Plantiniana, 1591.

The Flemish Mathias de L'Obel was physician to William of Orange and later became a botanist for James I of England. L'Obel's reputation rests primarily on his system of plant classification in which the shape and other properties of leaves serve as distinguishing markers of a group. The Icones Stirpium is entirely a picture book lacking in text. The hundreds of accurate plant woodcuts are intended to serve as a visual index for physicians, gardeners and artists to aid in the identification of plants.

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William Turner (1510-1568). The first and seconde partes of the herbal of William Turner, doctor in phisick . . . Cologne: Arnold Birckman, 1568.

Although remembered primarily as a theologian whose strong views led to his imprisonment and censorship, William Turner is considered to be the "father of British Botany" because of this work. Turner described over 200 species native to England, some of which were first named by him. He was strongly critical of prevailing superstitions in science, rejecting in particular the belief that the mandrake root (seen at left) resembled a human being. On the right is the description of the Amaradulcis or Bittersweet, a common plant found in hedgerows and along ditches and used by shepherds for protection from harm.



Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1500-1577). Petri Andreae Matthioli senensis medici: commentarij in sex libros Pedacij Dioscoridis Anazarbei De materia medica. Vence: Ex Officinia Valgrisiana, 1565.

An Italian botanist and physician to Emperor Maximilian II, Mattioli is remembered primarily for his translation and exposition on the ancient Greek botanist Pedanius Dioscorides, perhaps the single most influential authority on pharmacy for over 1500 years. Dioscorides identified some five hundred medicinal plants but described them imperfectly, thus providing much material for commentary and discussion throughout the following centuries. Matthioli's commentary was illustrated by aesthetically pleasing but misleading woodcuts. The artists worked from dried plant specimens rather than living ones, and designed the illustrations to fit the block rather than reflect the natural growth pattern of the plants. The pages seen here illustrate Psyllium (on the left), also known Fleawort because of the resemblance of the seeds to fleas, and Garden Nightshade (Solanum Hortense), which is on the right. Psyllium was used as a mild laxative, while the leaves of Garden Nightshade were used to cure headache and shingles when applied externally.

Solanum Hortense

Johannes Commelin (1629 - 1692). Horti medici amstelodamensis rariorum tam Orientalis, quam Occidentalis Indiae, aliarumque peregrinarum plantarum, magno studio ac labore, sumptibus Civitatis amstelodamensis, longa annorum serie collectarum, descriptio et icones ad vivum aeri incisae. 2 volumes. Amsterdam: P. & J. Blaue, 1697-1701.

Johannes Commelin was a Dutch spice merchant who used his wealth and connections to build the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens into Europe's leading center for the study of botany in the late seventeenth century. Holland's central position in international trade made Amsterdam the ideal location to collect and study the exotic plants discovered by Europeans in the East Indies, Africa and the Americas, such as the Aster africanus, shown here. Commelin wrote much of the text for the work, but it was completed by his nephew, Caspar Commelin (1667-1731) after this death. The original paintings for the engravings were by Jan and Maria Moninckx.

Aster Africanus


Elizabeth Blackwell (1700-1758). A curious herbal: containing five hundred cuts, of the most useful plants, which are used in the practice of physick, engraved on folio copper plates, after drawings, taken from the life, by Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short description of ye plants; and their common uses in physick. London: Printed for C. Nourse, 1782

Elizabeth Blackwell wrote and illustrated her Curious Herbal in the hope of earning enough money to secure her husband's release from debtor's prison. Blackwell, the daughter of a successful Scottish businessman, was encouraged in the project by members of the Royal College of Physicians who saw the need for an up-to-date herbal that included accurate illustrations and information about newly-discovered plants from the Americas. Blackwell did both the original drawings and engravings for the work, based on living specimens in the Chelsea Physic Garden, while the text was largely taken from Joseph Miller's Botanicum Officinale of 1722. The work was issued in weekly installments between 1737 and 1739, each with four plates and a page of text. It was reissued a number of times, including this 1782 edition by the original publisher. Blackwell succeeded in freeing her husband from debtor's prison with this book, but his business adventures led him into far worse troubles. A few years after his release from prison he traveled to Sweden where he was arrested and eventually executed for his involvement in a plot against the royal family.

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