by Jutta Buck
with Cynthia Rice
The art of botanical illustration saw a dramatic change during the Renaissance when both scientific precision and artistic sensibility were introduced by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Their studies of flowers and plants displayed a rare genius for depicting both plant structure and habit, and their works are considered to be the first modern botanical illustrations.
(L) Studies of Flowers, pen and ink over metalpoint on paper, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1483
(R) Marsh marigold, and wood anemone, pen and ink, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1505
Albrecht Dürer also made drawings of plants, birds and animals, which he later used in paintings. In his Large Piece of Turf (1503), at the Albertina in Vienna, each blade of grass, each leaf, dandelion and root has been meticulously depicted making this watercolor the first study of ecology.
Of eleven other watercolors of flowers known to be by Dürer, the most important are the studies at Bremen of a peony, a martagon lily, an anchusa and an iris, all of which are drawn on paper. Also at the Albertina, are three paintings on vellum, depicting violets, a columbine, and a greater celandine. Another study of an iris is in the Escorial in Spain.
(L) Columbine, watercolor on paper, Albrecht Durer
(R) Peonies, watercolor on paper, Albrecht Durer