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Ancient Floral Images

Learn about "true" botanical art on this Focus on Flowers.

A stone carving of a flower.

Photo: That Canadian Grrl (Flickr)

Stylized images of flowers and plants were produced by monks during medieval times, but they were decorative rather than scientifically accurate.

Many of us who love flowers like to hang pictures of flowers in our homes. But not all flower pictures are classified as botanical art. True botanical art, as well as being aesthetically pleasing, must be scientifically accurate. Thus, a botanical drawing or painting of a plant must faithfully represent the plant’s essential and distinctive features.

Frequently, not only the flowers but also the leaves, buds, and even roots are depicted by a botanical artist. Enough detail must be provided to ensure that the plant can be scientifically recognized. Very few ancient drawings of botanical specimens are available, and it seems that there were few plants drawn by ancient cave dwellers.

A Bit of History…

The American Society of Botanical Artists was not founded until 1994, but nowadays the keen observations and fine technical skills of these specialized artists are greatly admired and valued. The first known example of botanical art is probably a large stone frieze depicting all of the plants known in Syria during the 15th Century, which was discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb.

Stylized images of flowers and plants were produced by monks during medieval times, but they were decorative rather than scientifically accurate. Images of flowers and herbs were used as religious symbols to communicate how nature reflected the glory of God, and were copied and recopied so that they did not actually resemble any actual specimen.

As the centuries unfolded, and artists were used to document new plants that were discovered by explorers, more accurate images of plants by naturalists became available, but were not reproduced or circulated until after the invention of the printing press. After photography was invented, botanical art again fell into decline, until fairly recently when it has experienced a resurgence of popularity.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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