by Jutta Buck

with Cynthia Rice

The earliest portrayals of plants and trees were found in Mesopotamia and Egypt about four thousand years ago, where highly developed agricultural civilizations included images of plants and other
motifs on the walls of their temples and tombs. 
Later, in Cretan, Greek and Roman art, figures of plants and trees were often used to decorate ceramics or coins with various degrees of realism. Aristotle (384-322 BC) and his pupil Theophrastus (c.370-285 BC) were the first to study the medicinal properties of plants systematically. Although no manuscripts of classical times have survived, we know that they existed because Pliny the Elder (c. 23-79AD), himself an important recorder of botanic material, mentions colored illustrations in herbals. Pliny refers to Krateuas in particular, a Greek physician of the first century BC, who is widely considered to be the father of botanical illustration. 

Next Chapter

Back to List of Chapters

  • Ripe Barley, probably from Middle Egypt, New Kingdom, Amarna period. 18th Dynasty, reign of Akhenaten ca.1353-1336 B.C. Relief, limestone with traces of paint. Metropolitan Museum of Art