Basilius Besler

Hortus Eystettensis 1613

Datura Turcarum

Hand Colored Copper Engraving

Image size: 17 x 21 inches


Basilius Besler¹s magnificent engravings are the first large-folio natural history botanicals. His work, Hortus Eystettensis (Garden of Eichstätt), is man¹s earliest documentation of a specific garden and is the oldest of all of the great botanicals. Over 1,000 varieties of flowers are depicted in 367 exquisitely engraved and colored plates. In the early 1600s, the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt, Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, prince and bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria, Germany created what was probably the first comprehensive botanical garden devoted to flowering plants. Many of the exotic flowers were imported from the Americas and the Ottoman Empire.

Besler documented this vast garden, which was the only important European botanical garden outside Italy, depicting each plant as it bloomed throughout the four seasons. In fact, the work is sometimes referred to as the Four Seasons. Basilius Besler (1561 – 1629) was a respected Nuremberg apothecary and botanist. The prince bishop commissioned Besler to compile a codex of the plants growing in his garden, a task which Besler took sixteen years to complete, the bishop dying shortly before the work was published. Besler had the assistance of his brother and a group of skilled German draughtsmen and engravers. The work was named Hortus Eystettensis (Garden at Eichstätt). The emphasis in botanicals of previous centuries had been on medicinal and culinary herbs, and these had usually been depicted in a crude manner. The images were often inadequate for identification, and had little claim to being aesthetic. The Hortus Eystettensis changed botanical art overnight. The plates were of garden flowers, herbs and vegetables, exotic plants such as castor-oil and arum lilies. These were depicted near life-size, producing rich detail.

The Hortus Eystettensis has tremendous signifigance for botany: no garden of the Baroque age was documented as precisely. Even 140 years after the publication of the first edition in 1613, Carl von Linne (Carolus Linnaeus) still used the illustrations from this work: describing them as incomparable and cited them in his "Species plantarum". The Hortus Eystettensis is exceptional for many reasons. It was the first botanical in history to portray flowering plants as objects of beauty and is considered to be the greatest early botanical picture book. The Besler florilegium display every flower in its actual size.