Modern Age of Botany
by Jutta Buck
with Cynthia Rice
The modern age of botany began in 1530 when Otto Brunfels published the first part of his Herbarum vivae eicones, printed in Strasbourg by Schott and illustrated with extremely realistic and beautiful plant images by Hans Weiditz. In translation, Living Portraits of Plants, it underscores Weiditz's close study from nature. In the past, Weiditz’s command of plant depiction had often been mistaken for that of Dürer. While Weiditz seems to have supervised the cutters who carved his work onto the woodblocks, Brunfels text, largely compiled from older writings, lacked botanical accuracy.
Pasque Flower (Anemone pulsatilla) from Brunfels Herbarum vivae icones, Johann Schott, Strassburg, 1530. Woodcut after Hans Weiditz.
Another important book of the sixteenth century was Fuchs’s De Historia Stirpium (1542) with a German translation New Kreuterbuch (1543) printed in Basel by the Isingrin Press. Woodcuts of individual plants, rendered in outline for later coloring, fill each page. The consistency of coloring among the copies suggests they were colored before being sold. Thus, hand colored illustrations were an early introduction into the book trade. The exquisite plates by Fuch’s artists influenced botanical art for years to come, as later books include copies of these original illustrations.
One of the most famous authorities on medicinal botany of the sixteenth century was Pier Andrea Mattioli (1501-77), who combined a great interest in the work of Dioscorides with his knowledge of botanical discoveries in the new world. Mattioli’s best-known book, Commentari in sex Libros Pedacii Dioscorides, was first published in Italian in Venice in 1544, with later translations to follow. The illustrations in the first edition were unremarkable, whereas Giorgio Liberale and Wolfgang Meyerpeck drew the figures of the later editions with great skill, yet without the sophistication of Brunfels and Fuchs.