There's more than meets the eye to botanical prints. The decorative and aesthetic qualities of fine art meet the meticulous observation of science. The subjects also reflect the preoccupations of the cultures and times when they were made. Here are a few key cultural trends of the 17th through 19th centuries and their influence on botanical art:
In the 17th century tulipomania swept Holland and a speculative market caused a surge in the price of choice tulip bulbs. Beautiful tulip species, cultivated in British gardens in the 18th Century, are expertly rendered by the renowned Dutch flower artist Jan Van Huysum for John Hill's A Compleat Body of Gardening (shown top left). Also notable are the tulip prints of Johann Wilhelm Weinmann.
In the 19th Century, British horticulturists developed a passion for orchids and ferns. John Nugent Fitch's Orchid Album (shown top center) illustrated "the best forms of these singular and captivating aristocratic plants," for enthusiasts interested in growing them. The orchid form was further popularized by the Art Nouveau movement.
Nature-printed plants were created in mid 19th century England and Vienna (shown top right) by pressing real specimens in lead, transferring the image by electrotype to a copper plate and printing and hand-coloring each one.
Beginning in the 17th Century and accelerating during the Enlightenment of the 18th Century, European artists and scientists undertook major projects collecting and cataloguing nature in its breathtaking variety. Hortus Eysttensis (shown far left), the first major compendium of botanical illustrations, was published in 1613 by Basilius Besler. A team of at least 10 engravers worked on this massive project under Besler for 16 years to document the magnificent gardens of the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt, Germany. In the 18th century, Johann Wilhelm Weinmann and others produced plates illustrating what to Europeans were exotic, newly-discovered flora and fauna, such as the banana tree (shown left), as well as studies of domestic plants used in herbal remedies. The early 19th century saw the continuation of this Enlightenment project, with large horticultural studies such as Henri Duhamel Du Monceau's Traite des Arbres Fruitiers, (shown far left) and plates for gardeners, e.g. Jane Wells Loudon's The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants (shown below far right).
In the 19th century, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) (right) recorded many of the beautiful ornamental garden flowers of Napoleon's wife, the Empress Josephine. The greatest engravers of the period were engaged to create stipple engraved prints based on Redouté's original watercolors. He is considered the greatest botanical artist of the golden era of botanical illustration.
Bouquets in Botanical Art
Bouquet compositions of varieties of flowers in botanical illustrations derive from a tradition that begins with Dutch Old Master still life pictures, continues in the 18th century works of Jean Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699), Barbara Regina Dietzsch (1706-1783) (shown right) and Pieter Casteels' (1684-1749) series of flowers of the months published by Robert Furber in London to promote his nursery business in 1730 (shown far right).
In the second quarter of the 19th century, Pierre-Joseph Redouté introduced bouquets into his works in Choix Des Plus Belles Fleurs (shown above center). In the second half of the 19th century various European artists such as Elisa-Honorine Champin (shown right with detail below) and William Mussill produced floral compositions arranged for beautiful decorative effect, some as bouquets, while depicting the the plants in an accurate and naturalistic manner. By contrast, the large numbers of popular prints of floral bouquets produced by the American publisher Currier & Ives in the second half the 19th century tended toward stylized still life compositions (shown far right).
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