Brief Cultural History of Botanical Illustration

The Greeks began the true scientific study of plants in the ca. 6th century B.C., and Theophrastus (student of Aristotle) is considered the father of botany.  He understood the structure and taxonomy of plants and was interested in classification.

However, during the time period of 200 through 1483, interest in plants was purely from a medicinal perspective, and thus, the majority of published works were herbals with woodcut illustrations.  Many of the illustration were extremely stylized, and did not necessarily reflect the physical specimen.

An interest in scientific enquiry developed after the Renaissance, although there was still great interest in private gardens and medicinal plants as topics for books.   The invention of printing enabled numerous copies of botanical works to be distributed, and the age of exploration provided opportunities for authors and illustrators to display new examples of discoveries in the New World.

Increasingly, specimens were preserved in herbarium and used to develop realistic illustrations.  Many of the illustrations continued to be woodcut, and were then hand painted.

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