Images from naturalist and botanical texts, in addition to being beautiful, have been key sources of information for doctors and scientists for centuries. The 16th century wood engraver Andres Lagunas depicted important flowers and plants with medicinal properties for the medical text Dioscordides anazarbeo Acerca de la Materia Medicinal, which was published by Mathias Gast in 1555. This five volume work was originally written by a Greek physician in the Roman army between 50 and 70 CE, making it one of the oldest continuously used natural history texts.
William Curtis, an American Botanist, recognized an interest in the natural world in his fellow Americans and published the first edition of The Botanical Magazine in 1787. Running for over two centuries, this publication offered hand-colored engravings and an educated yet accessible text that familiarized it's readers with both exotic and common plants. Other selected hand colored engravings in this show of botanicals and naturalist subjects reflect on the interest sparked by Darwin and Linnaeus to determine the origin of species.
The leaves seen in this show originate from a medieval Book of Hours, a common Christian devotional text from the middle ages. While the text within this type of manuscript can vary, a Book of Hours gets its name from the mandatory inclusion of the Hours of the Virgin Mary, the prayers associated with the eight canonical hours of the day. Once considered an object of luxury for the elite, 15th century innovations in printing allowed for an increase in production and the spread of these manuscripts an emerging middle class.
This Book of Hours in particular was printed on vellum by Jehan Poitevin in February of 1501 and illustrated with beautiful wood engraved panels and historiated initials in red and blue. The leaves come alive with illustrations in the margins that depict a variety of subjects. Biblical scenes set in contemporary France are juxtaposed with fantastical medieval beasts that emerge from the page to delight the mind and imagination. Gothic architectural details throughout the page evoke the majesty of Medieval cathedrals, bringing the reader one step closer to what they believed to be the house of God. Look closer and take in the images that enticed viewers over 500 years ago.