Nature-Printed Plant Engravings in Sepia Ink
from Physiotypia Plantarum Austriacarum, Prague: 1873

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Constantin Freiherrn von Ettingshausen (1826-97) (co-author)
Alois Pokorny (1826-86) (co-author)
Nature-printed Plants
from Physiotypia Plantarum Austriacarum Der Naturselbstdruck...der Pflanzen
[Physiotypes of Austrian Plants, Nature-pressed]
Alois Auer (1813-1869), Imperial Printing House, Vienna: c. 1855-56
Verlag von F. Tempsky, Prague: 1873
Nature-printed engravings in sepia ink
17 x 15 inches, platemark
22.75 x 15.75 inches, overall
$550 each

A selection of nature-printed Austrian plant specimens, including leaves, flowers fern fronds, and grasses, some with stems and roots.  Many of the plants had medicinal uses and still are found in homeopathic remedies.  Ferns in particular were fashionable decorative motifs in the Victorian era.  The prints combine aesthetically pleasing compositions with the scientific precision and objectivity inherent in the process.  A group of four nature prints from this series were loaned by George Glazer Gallery to the Martha Stewart Living television program, where they appeared on the set in Fall 1999.  The plates shown here all come from Vol. 2 of the Prague edition published 1873.

Nature printing was perfected in Vienna and London in the mid 19th century.  In this process a dried, flattened plant was pressed between two lead plates, leaving an impression which in turn was transferred by electrotype to a copper plate.  This in turn was reverse cast to make an intaglio plate for printing each plant image on paper.  Nature printing became obsolete in the early 20th Century when x-ray photography provided a more efficient means of achieving the same kind of detailed record of plant characteristics such as patterns of leaf veining.

Physiotypia Plantarum Austriacarum is one of the greatest ever nature printed books. The original collection consisted of 530 plates published in Vienna, c. 1855-56 in five folio volumes and a quarto volume.  A second edition, published in Prague in 1873, expanded the number of plates to 1,000.  In each edition, the plants were printed in sepia ink.  The Vienna edition was printed under the supervision of Alois Auer (1813-1869), director of the Imperial Printing House in Vienna, who along with Henry Bradbury in London, produced the finest nature prints.  Auer improved upon earlier versions of the technique, which had been in use in published works since the 18th century.  Von Ettingshausen, a paleobotanist, saw an application to his research comparing fossil plants to present-day species.  His interests are aptly captured in the subtitle of the work: "with particular reference to veining in the surface organs of plants."  His co-author, Alois Pokorny, studied botany and also produced a subsequent nature-printed work of leaves from woody Austrian plants.

Full title: Physiotypia Plantarum Austriacarum Der Naturselbstdruck in seiner Anwendung auf die Gefässpflanzen des Österreichischen, mit besonderer Berucksichtigung der Nervation in den Flächenorganen der Pflanzen[Physiotypes of Austrian Plants, nature pressing, as applied to the vascular plants of the Austrian imperial state, with particular reference to veining in the surface organs of plants.]

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear.  Some with soft creases, light staining in far outer margins, can be matted out.  Some with minor pale scattered foxing.

References:

Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T.  The Art of Botanical Illustration.  Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1994.  pp. 157-58.

Nissen, Claus. Die Botanische Buchillustration: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1951-66. 613.

Stafleu, Frans A. and Richard S.Cowan. Taxonomic Literature. Utrecht: 1967. 2nd ed., Utrecht: 1976-1988. 1723.

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