Basiluis Besler was a
botanist and apothecary in Nuremberg, when the Bishop-Prince Johann
Konrad von Gemmingen commissioned him to document the contents of his
extensive Garden of Eichstätt. Comprised of mostly exotic and
ornamental plants imported from all over the world, the Prince’s
garden provided an unrivaled collection of flowers, shrubs, herbs,
fruits and vegetables. To facilitate the project and at the request
of Konrad, the garden eventually came under the direction of Besler.
In this sense, Besler did not have to travel any further than his own
back yard to document these rarest, newest and most uncommon plants
from live specimens.
Astonishingly, each plant is illustrated actual size and in full
bloom. The plates were produced and arranged by season, presenting
themselves to the subscribers in the same order that the plants
appeared throughout the year. At its core, Hortus Estettensis
is consumed with beauty; it is a riot of color, line and decoration.
Plants are arrayed on the page in motifs, not dissimilar to
illustrations found in illuminated manuscripts. The centuries old
tradition of art in the service of the written word - images literally
relegated to the margins - has now been reversed. Indeed the plant
names are in highly stylized calligraphy but beyond this, the text is
almost nonexistent. Due to advances in print engraving techniques,
Besler’s magnificent large folio florilegium marks a clear transition
from the dominance of the descriptive word to the immediacy and
supremacy of visual and pictorial elements.
Cushion" h.c. engraving, 1613
Martina Nehrling, "Perennial"
acrylic on canvas, 20x20, 2006