The prints were commissioned by Johann Konrad von Gemmingen (c. 1561-1612), Prince-Bishop of Eichstätt, to chronicle his garden through the four seasons, with most of the plants depicted actual size. This garden, which encircled the Episcopal residence, was one of the first of its kind, an inclusive display of shrubs and flowering plants, mostly European, but with some then exotic species from Asia, Africa and the Americas. Basil Besler, a pharmacist and botanist, was retained as an artist to record the glories of the garden. Besler worked on intermittently over a 16-year period, on site or from specimens. A team of at least six engravers faithfully translated Besler’s drawings to copperplates, Wolfgang Kilian chief among them.
Hortus Eysttensis (literally the Garden of Eichstätt), first published in 1613, is a landmark work in the history of botanical art and considered one of the greatest botanical sets ever created. Over 1,000 flowers representing 667 species are depicted on 374 folio size plates. The prints are historically significant on several levels, showing a remarkably large number of tulips and other flower bulbs and chronicling the introduction of exotic species to Germany. The prints survived the gardens themselves, which fell into neglect after von Gemmingen died, and were destroyed by invading Swedish troops in 1634. The copperplates from which the prints were used to print a second and a third edition. They remained at Eichstätt until around 1800 and disappeared several years later. In 1998, a reconstruction of the original garden opened to the public in Eichstätt.
Editions: We offer an assortment of prints from the first, second, and third editions. A superior feature of the first edition is that the details of the strike generally are finer and richer. An advantage of the second edition is that the text is not printed on the back (sometimes the text lightly shows through to the front on the first or third editions). The third edition is printed on a heavier rich hand-made paper. The following is a summary:
First Edition, 1613. Text description printed on the back of the print.
Second Edition, 1640. Back of print is blank.
Third Edition, 1713 [- c. 1750]. Thicker and richer with grainier cloth fibers. Text description printed on the back of the print.
Barker, Nicolas. Hortus Eystettensis, The Bishop’s Garden and Besler’s Magnificent Book. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994. p.21.
Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1994. pp. 106-108.
Brindle, John V., James J. White and Donald E Wendel. Flora Portrayed: Classics of Botanical Art from the Hunt Institute Collection. Pittsburgh, PA: Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie-Mellon University, 1985. 430.
Keunecke, Hans-Otto. Hortus Eystettensis: zur Geschichte eines Gartens und einer Buches, Munich: Schirmer/Mosel, 1989, pp.106-112, 131-4.
Mail-Brandt, Maria. “Besler, Basilius Apotheker, Sammler, Gartenliebhaber, Verleger” Garten-Literatur. 27 February 2002. http://www.garten-literatur.de/Leselaube/persoenl/besler_p.htm (5 April 2006).
Nissen, Claus. Die Botanische Buchillustration: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1951-66. 159.
Pritzel, Georg August. Thesaurus Literaturae Botanicae Omnium Gentium. Milan: 1950. 745.
Stafleu, Frans A. and Richard S.Cowan. Taxonomic Literature. Utrecht: 1967. 2nd ed., Utrecht: 1976-1988. 497.
“The Garden at Eichstätt.” Taschen Books.http://www.taschen.com/pages/en/catalogue/books/interiors_savoir_vivre/all/facts/01624.htm (5 April 2006).