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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Botanical Illustrations


Botanical Illustrations – An Age Long Tradition

Botanical illustration is an age long tradition in arts and science and is presently enjoying recovery in popularity among collectors as well as artists. Botanical drawings, centuries ago, was helpful to people in keeping records of plants with healing properties.

The earliest practical use of botanical illustrations was in identifying plants having medicinal properties where drawings were collected in books known as herbals and utilised by physicians in plant based medicine. The first known herbal – De Materia Medica had been written by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek military physician during the 1st century and continued to be in use for almost two thousand years.

 Detailed illustrations of herbs as well as other plants had been designed to help doctors and botanist in recognizing the species and used for medical purposes. Botanical illustrations is an ingrained tradition of portraying plants for the purpose of scientific purpose, in keeping accounts on vanishing species for historical record or representing the beauty we tend to experience the flora world that we are surrounded with.

The Codex Vindebonensis, the oldest example of botanical art surviving, in the Byzantine style dates back to 512 AD where the illustrations are more detailed and accurate as the centuries unfold and have now taken on an artistic turn, instead of the medical use.

Art of Depicting Details of Plant Species

Botanical illustration seems to be the art of depicting the colour, form as well as details of the plant species often in watercolour paintings which tend to be printed with botanical description in magazines, books or any other media. Creation of these needs comprehension of plant morphology as well as access to the specimens and the references, which are composed in consultation with scientific author.The earliest botanic illustrations date back thousands of years.

The temple walls of Thutmos II at Karnak, Egypt, comprises of 275 drawings of plants that have been found on a campaign to Syria dating from 1500 BC. The Romans and Greeks interested in natural science also maintained botanical records. The chief aim of botanical illustrations is scientific accuracy and not art. It needs to portray a plant with its precision and details, in order to be recognized and be notable from the other species.

Illustrations Beyond Scientific Needs

The need for precision differentiates botanical illustration from the general flower painting and several great artists of the seventeenth century Dutch masters to the French Impressionists like the Monet and Renoir, to the modernists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, depicted flowers.

 Accuracy did not seem to be necessary always, since their aim was appealing. The illustrations tend to go beyond scientific needs, in the hands of a brilliant botanical artist. Though photographs and probably microscopic photography could be helpful in forming botanical work, there could be requirements for botanical illustrations since it could represent what may not be seen clearly in photograph.

For instance, the outline drawings can make distinction in origins which may not be noticed on using reflected light. Moreover, the composition of the image could be influenced fully in illustrations wherein the features exhibited together may not be easily shown at the same time in nature.

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