Friday, May 16, 2008

Book Review: Besler's Book of Flowers and Plants

Caltha palustris flore by Basilius Besler (1569-1629, Germany)
Hand colored print. From 'Hortus Eystettensis'

Besler's Hortus Eystettensis is a momentous book.
In 1611, the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt in Germany was already terminally ill when he determined to record for posterity the spectacular garden he’d created at his palace in Bavaria with plants from around the world. Hundreds of his favourite flowers where carefully drawn and engraved as they bloomed through the four seasons. Published in 1613, the finished catalogue was the largest and most magnificent florilegium ever made.
British Library - Online Gallery - Landmarks in printing -
Hortus Eystettensis
Some 5,000 plants in Germany's famous garden at Eichstätt were recorded in copperplate engravings. These were later published in Hortus Eystettensis (which is Latin and means ‘The Garden at Eichstätt’) by Basilius Besler.
The Hortus Eystettensis changed botanical art overnight. The plates were of garden flowers, herbs and vegetables, exotic plants such as castor-oil and arum lilies. These were depicted near life-size, producing rich detail. The layout was artistically pleasing and quite modern in concept, with the hand-colouring adding greatly to the final effect. The work was first published in 1613 and consisted of 367 copper engravings, with an average of three plants per page, so that a total of 1084 species were depicted. The first edition printed 300 copies, which took four years to sell.
Wikipedia - Basilius Besler
Besler's Book of Flowers and Plants: 73 Full-Color Plates from Hortus Eystettensis, 1613
(Dover Pictorial Archive Series) - by Basilius Besler

As before, this is a book which is heavy on images and light on text. This A4 sized book contains 73 full-colour plates - one per page - from the Hortus Estettensis 1613. You can see the type of image in the full page plate in the image at the top of the page - although that particular image is not included. The plants and flowers chosen represent a wide variety.

It has an extensive index at the back of the book for locating different images by both common (English) and Latin plant name. The quality of the reproduction is excellent.

The publisher's note indicates that although Besler documented the garden, he also employed as many as ten engravers to produce the engravings for the book. Although the drawing style appears consistent throughout, the engraving styles do seem to vary slightly - which makes one wonder why we don't know more about the engravers who were employed.

In my opinion, this is the sort of book which will appeal to a real fan of the history of botanical art. It's certainly very interesting from the point of view of studying classical portrayals of plants and flowers. I also found it really interesting to see the difference between the woodcuts seen in the book reviewed yesterday and how the nature of the illustrations changed as they started to use (1) copper engraving and (2) colour.

There are quite a few more books which might interest botanical artists and printmakers in Dover's Pictorial Archive series.

1 comment:

Chuck Law said...

Thank you for the review Katherine. Besler's Book looks facinating. A sure consideration for this Artist/Florist/Gardener's Library.

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