The Bavarian Prince Bishop of Eichstätt rebuilt an ancient palace on a hilltop in the late 16th century near Munich. Surrounding the Willibaldsburg palace he employed Joachim Camerarius to plant a garden covering about a hectare (2 and 1/2 acres).
Camerarius died soon after the project began and was replaced by Basilius Besler, an apothecary and botanical specialist from Nuremburg. Besler was instrumental in choosing and nurturing a wide collection of flowering plants, including specimens from the Americas, Africa and Asia in addition to European plants. By all accounts it was a magnificent garden and was one of the first botanical gardens established outside of Italy.
It seems the Prince Bishop made some sketches and asked that Besler have them engraved. Thereafter, for (up to) 16 years, Besler extended the idea and devoted his energies to producing the most extensive florelegium known at that time, which is still regarded as the finest botanical book ever produced. With a team of 10 engravers, large folio engravings were made, allowing the prints to match the size of the specimens in many cases. My understanding is that Besler himself did some of the engraving, but he was certainly the driving force behind the undertaking.
The book was published in 1613 (the year following the death of the Prince Bishop). Over 1000 plants were illustrated on 350 pages. A black and white edition included notes about the plants for apothecaries, whereas the more expensive hand coloured edition (300 in the print run with colouring done by Georg Mack) included the illustrations by themselves. Although the images were nearly true to life, a concession to the prevailing baroque aesthetic resulted in some embellishment appearing, such as in the traditional portrayal of the root system.
Beyond the artistic and printing qualities of this work, it ironically prefigures the Linnaean system of binomial naming of species with Besler assigning dual names, according to the seasons - the former phenomenon is more to do with luck but in the case of the latter, it was a significant attempt to marry up the scientific attributes of plants with a classification system. Indeed, the book is divided into four parts, one for each of the seasons (it has been known as 'the book of seasons' in some circles). The latin title, Hortus Eystettensis, translates as ‘The Garden at Eichstätt’.
To the best of my knowledge, no complete copy of this book has been posted onlineUpdate below. The majority of the above images (apart from the first 3) were found on the Bergbook (commercial) site - I believe they have the most interesting specimens, but it's debatable. They have a flash zoom interface so I had to rely on slightly truncated screen captures.
- The first 3 images above are from the Italian Abocamuseum site which also has perhaps 50 or 60 example illustrations.
- The Arader Gallery site has about 80 images in thumbnail format.
- Further examples are hosted by Glazer Gallery.
- The best background information comes from the British Library.
- In passing, I noticed that a single original page from this book fetches ~$US4000 so it would seem a bargain to pick up a complete and annotated (slightly smaller than folio) volume from Taschen Books for $US50 (I couldn't readily see a date for this publication - in 3 languages).
- Incidentally (or perhaps, significantly), the original gardens were destroyed in 1634 by invading Swedish troops but, with the help of the Hortus Eystettensis, a reconstruction was undertaken during the last decade and the gardens were reopened to the public in 1998.
- UPDATE (July 2010): Botanicus has just digitised a b&w version of Hortus Eystettensis.
I'm in Canberra at my brother's house at present and am enduring some impediments to my usual posting frequency.
The troubles (!!) with the wireless network alone have curbed my usual online habits, but when this is coupled with the sideline [enjoyable] surfing I've been doing as a guest contributor in March at Coudal Partners and more significantly, with the house break-in and burglary of a laptop (among many other things) from my brother's place and the resultant competition between various university/school student relatives for the remaining internet access...well, as you can imagine, it's quite difficult getting a post together, for which I apologize.
Hopefully this situation will pick up as my intimidation tactics against the smaller and weaker of my relatives become more successful ;- )