A Gathering of Flowers

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Old books hold their own mystique; as if endowed with sacred properties, to be revered, protected, held in awe. I’m not talking about books from decades ago, rather those hundreds of years old. The Hortus Eystettensis is no exception.

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This first edition botanical book was printed in 1613 and made the news this week as it comes up for sale at Christie’s in London. It is not the humungous value of the book (an estimated £ 1.2 million / $ 1.7 million) that I find astonishing, rather the beauty, detail and colour which is so staggering.

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The drawings are as vivid and alluring as on the day they were created, the colours striking, bright.

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The florilegium (latin for A Gathering of Flowers) depicts over a 1,000 varieties of flowers found in the gardens of the Bishop of Eichstätt and was commissioned by the bishop. The botanist Basilius Besler created the book along with a team of gifted craftsmen and altogether the task took him sixteen years.

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The work generally reflects the four seasons, showing first the flowering and then the fruiting stages. There were two forms of the books. A cheaper black and white version with drawings and text for reference purposes as well as this more luxurious hand-coloured version on top quality paper without text.

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The Hortus Eystettensis is unique in that is changed the face of botanical art overnight. Previous botany books had concentrated on medicinal and culinary herbs, which were mostly depicted in a crude manner.  Besler’s book was of garden flowers, herbs and vegetables as well as exotic plants such as  arum lilies. The drawings were reproduced on high-quality engraved copper plates by expert craftsmen before printing and the reproductions are almost life-sized in exquisite detail. The layout was unusual too and modern in its concept and artistically pleasing. The pièce de résistance however is the beautiful and delicate hand-colouring throughout the book.

‘If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.’ Buddha

Information from Wikipedia and The Times.

 

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84 thoughts on “A Gathering of Flowers

    • Annika Perry says:

      Kathy, I’m glad this piqued your interest! The quote is so simple and obvious but how many and how often do we take the time to consider this – just one single flower, just to pause and do nothing else but give it our full attention!

  1. Miriam says:

    What a spectacular book. And to have it still look so good is quite incredible. Such a beautiful and creative post Annika, loved it. (By the way I voted for you the other day, congrats on being nominated!)

  2. roughwighting says:

    Incredible! Gorgeous! Breathtaking! Thank you for sharing this antique book with us, with the most exquisite drawings. They are luscious. I wonder if anything like this could be produced today with such detail and care?

    • Annika Perry says:

      Pam, thank you so much for your lovely comment – I can sense you’re blown away just like I was when seeing these stunning images! Your question has had me thinking…hmm…I can’t think of any books that are made with this much original artist work and hand painting on each picture in each book. Such love and dedication. However, my son does have a wonderful art book about the creation of one if his favourite games, showing how the original art work was conceived, developed or later rejected, showing the creation of story-lines, character analysis, development. It is leather bound on beautiful quality paper and a treat to hold and read – still nothing like this book though!!😀

  3. reocochran says:

    Annika, you found an amazing book with the production and artwork being only part of the miracle of the book. I went to an exhibit at University of Dayton over a year, maybe two? I wrote of first editions on my blog: Alice in Wonderland and the Qur’an being included. Each were illustrated beautifully. This centuries old, “gardening book” was simply exquisite!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Wow, Robin, that must have been quite something to see the first editions of those books. The love, care and dedication of work of these special books lasts centuries in some cases – a testament to the power of creation. I love the idea of this book as a ‘gardening book’ – imagine having it lying casually on your coffee table, cup of tea and biscuits next to it as you peruse at your leisure! 😀

  4. Anonymous says:

    This book looks amazing and the artwork is fantastic. The colours are so clear and vibrant. What fascinates me is how they produced a book like this at the time.

    Thanks for sharing another gem Annika

    Mike

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you so much Mike and thank you for the ‘gem’ comment! I see what you did there!

      I think each drawing was engraved onto a copperplate before printing – but that doesn’t even start to explain the huge spectacle of production. I would love to have seen it made – I love newspaper production and was in heaven when visiting the printing (1990s style ) presses of the papers!

  5. Julie Holmes, author says:

    Wow! This is incredible! To think it took so many people with such talent; no wonder it turned out so lovely. And that it survived to this day is another wonder. Thank you for sharing it, Annika!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you, Julie! 😀 This is the kind of book that just makes you pause, count the centuries on your hand and then go, as you write, wow! A real treasure and such a blessing it’s in such an amazing condition.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Rod, I hadn’t heard of it before seeing the article in the paper – it’s lovely to see some uplifting news for once and I was happy to share it here. It is a treasure.

  6. Book Club Mom says:

    It’s so interesting to think that botanists had to be great artists as well as scientists. No cell phones or cameras to take pictures with. These pictures are really beautiful, Annika!

    • Annika Perry says:

      I know, they had a true gift but don’t you think they also noticed, were aware of what was around them a lot more than we do nowadays when we can happy-snap away at no cost. The detail is exquisite, the colour divine. This was a labour of love!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Jo, it’s a wonderful book, I agree. I spent ages deciding which illustration to put first – so glad you liked the one I choose particularly! Wishing you a lovely weekend too; the sun is shining so far. 😀

  7. M. L. Kappa says:

    What a lovely work of art. Thanks for presenting it, Annika, I’d never heard about it before. It would be interesting to know what paint they used for the hand-coloring- some kind of egg tempera? There must have been some special ingredient for the colors to last so well.

    • Annika Perry says:

      As an artist I thought you would especially appreciate this botanical art book. You probably have a better idea of what paints they would have used. I was struck by the vivid colours on the illustrations four hundred years later! I’ve never heard of egg tempera but that sounds like a possibility. I tried researching online for more exact information without success. If you do find out I would love to know. Thank you so much for commenting. 😃

    • Annika Perry says:

      Diana, I thought the same – ONLY sixteen years! When you consider all the work that went into its production I thought this very reasonable. I’m giggling trying to imagine this as a gardening book – lying on a dusty shelf in a greenhouse! Rather a very fancy coffee table art book – and then for universities and the like I imagine.

  8. JC says:

    Annika, this is wonderful. I love old books and to see one as fine as this one that’s been cared for in such a manner is so beautiful. And the quote, one of my favorites. The Buddha was about to give a sermon, he held a flower in his hand and lifted it up and the simplest of his followers understood the miracle of a flower.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you for you lovely comment, JC and for telling me more about the Buddha quote – I have a lot to learn about him! The book must have been so well cared for throughout the past few hundred years – it looks in impeccable condition.

  9. L. T. Garvin, Author says:

    This is such a beautiful treasure, and I find it interesting that it is so well preserved. I love old books, even ones that are nowhere nearly as embellished as this. It would be such a treat to see this one in real life. Thanks for a wonderful post, Annika 🙂

    • Annika Perry says:

      I felt the same when looking at the image of the book, it would be amazing to see it in real life.😃 Pure magic. The preservation aspect of it is really puzzling me. Was it always protected? Or was it so well-made it survived the 400 years intact? So happy you enjoyed the post.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Bernadette, I have a feeling this book has been very well looked after in its life-time – I bet they all haven’t made it to 400 years old! It is amazing that it is in such perfect condition – a real treasure.

      Thank you for the good luck wishes – it was a lovely surprise to find my name on the nomination form as I came to vote! Are you coming to London for the Bloggers Bash?

  10. Jacqui Murray says:

    I have several books from groups like the National Audubon Society about plant life in areas my novels take place. That type of information lends real authenticity and insider knowledge to a story, I think.

    Love the pictures you’ve included here.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Jacqui, I do like it when your comments send me exploring, learning…I’ve just been on their website (National Audubon Society) and watched the video. Amazing work over 100 years and their books must be an invaluable resource for writers et al. I think I would become carried away with the research and become immersed in the pictures! I think there is a great story about the history of the gardens waiting to be written. They were only completely recreated in the late 20th Century – using Besler’s books as the blueprint!

  11. Sherri says:

    If I had silly money – very silly money – I would buy this absolutely stunningly gorgeous book! I am sure I had some postcards or something years ago, replicated of course, with very similar designs. I still have my Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady book, given me by a friend decades ago, so you can tell how much I adore botanical books. Thank you for the fascinating information you share here Annika. Love this post…you’ve given me a big smile with this. And many congratulations on the nomination for the Blogger’s Bash Awards…you deserve it my friend! 🙂 ❤

    • Annika Perry says:

      Sherri, I too had Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady!! 😃 My mother gave it to me when I was young and at the time I didn’t appreciate it but definitely do now. I’m so happy this made you smile – the colours and delicate drawings alone bring me such joy and that’s why I just had to share it here on my blog. Think of buying this book – wonderful but the stress of keeping it well-preserved would be horrendous not to mention the aspect of safety – the insurance alone would be astronomical!

      The nomination was a wonderful surprise and I did a double take as I went through the list voting! Thank you so much for your kind words. Wishing you a peaceful happy weekend. Hugs😀

      • Sherri says:

        I am not at all surprised that you had the same book Annika…and yes, I would not want that kind of responsibility lol! You deserve it and I hope you had a wonderful weekend 🙂 ❤

    • Annika Perry says:

      Eve, it’s almost unbelievable the great condition of the book considering its age. I had to keep reminding myself this is 400 years old. Crazy eh! Seeing art like this is a delight and lifts the heart! Wishing you a great weekend, Eve. 😀

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you so much for this lovely comment.😀 There was so much I could have written about Besler, his team, the bishop and gardens but I wanted the photos to do most of the ‘talking’! Warmest wishes to you too. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

  12. delphini510 says:

    Thank you Annika for introducing this beautiful book. Such passion and dedication by Basilius Besler and his craftsmen. Their work will continue living on and amaze. How I would love to just see that book once.:))
    I collected and catalogued plants when I grew up and have a great love for botany.
    The quote is so true!
    Mirja

    • Annika Perry says:

      Mirja, I love the simplicity of this quote too – with such hidden depths and truth. I had to pause the first time I read it to really take it in. The book is amazing and I’m in awe of all the work involved. We are spoilt in today’s modern world of easy technology – as you say the passion and dedication is immense as is the craftsmanship. I wonder if any of the copper plates survived? Thank you very much for you lovely comment.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Ah, thank you so much! ☺️ It was a total surprise to me as I had not idea and only spotted my name whilst voting! I did a double take when I saw my name – a huge honour as there are so many great blogs out there.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you, Jill. When I saw more photographs of the book on the internet yesterday I just wanted to share it on my blog as I thought so many would appreciate the beauty.

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