Besler 1st Ed. Pl. 157, White and Red Snapdragons; Death's Head
Original Antique Print
22" x 16-1/2" (approximate)
Hortus Eystettensis, First Edition
The first large-folio natural history botanical, Basilius Besler’s magnificent work, Hortus Eystettensis (Garden of Eichstätt), is the earliest pictorial record of a specific garden and the oldest of all of the great botanicals. Over 1,000 varieties of flowers are depicted in 367 exquisitely engraved and colored plates.
The first botanical in history to portray flowering plants as objects of beauty, Hortus Eystettensis deviated from non-aesthetic and awkward representations of preceding publications that focused on plants as herbal subjects and set the standard for great flower folios of the following centuries. Wilfred Blunt, noted author of The Art of Botanical Illustration an Illustrated History, writes of the Besler Florilegium,
“The designs are really impressive, and the invention rarely flags; the rhythmic pattern of the roots, the calligraphic possibilities of lettering, are fully explored and utilized ; and the dramatic effect of the whole is enhanced by the noble proportions of the plates, which, when colored make decorations that remained unrivaled until the publication nearly two centuries later of Thornton’s Temple of Flora.”
Work on the first comprehensive botanical garden devoted to flowering plants in Germany was begun in 1596, under the direction of the German botanist and physician Joachim Camerarius the Younger. Eight separate gardens were constructed at Willibaldsburg castle, the residence of Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt. Each garden was devoted to flowers of a different country. Exotic flowers were imported from the Netherlands, Americas, and the Ottoman Empire. Upon Joachim Camerarius’ death in 1598, the Bishop called upon Basilius Besler (1561—1629), a Nuremberg apothecary, for guidance on specimens for the gardens.
Basilius Besler introduced the idea of documenting the vast garden and depicting each plant as it bloomed throughout the four seasons, hence the work is sometimes referred to as the Four Seasons. The Prince Bishop wrote that the Nuremberg apothecary “wishes to have [drawings of his flowers] engraved in copper, printed, dedicated to me and to seek his fame and profit with the book….” Basilius Besler worked on the drawings for 16 years, but most of the colored sketches were made between 1610 and 1612. These were sent to the workshop of Wolgang Kilian in Augsburg to be translated by skilled artists into black-and-white drawings that could serve as templates for the engravings which were executed in Wolgang Kilian’s workshop by a team of engravers. Colorists then carefully hand-colored each engraved plate.
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