Photo: Martin_Heigan (Flickr)
During the Renaissance which began in the 16th Century, visual artists began to depict plants in terms of their specific characteristics and focused on the intricacy of their composition for the first time.
You may remember that prior to this time, drawings and paintings of plants were used for decorative and medicinal purposes or to symbolize religious concepts. Thus earlier flower images were formulaic rather than naturalistic.
True Botanical Art
The 16th Century brought the availability of the microscope to enhance the observations of the naked eye, and artists could therefore examine and replicate plant and flower parts more carefully and accurately. True botanical art emerged at this time. Printing had been invented and that aided the dissemination of these visual images.
Leonardo De Vinci was one of the artists who drew many botanical images during this period. We remember him for his many other contributions but he also loved the symmetry he found in plants and flowers and looked at botanical specimens with the eye of a scientist.
One of his most famous drawings is of Marsh Marigolds. He and other fellow artists of the Renaissance created a large number of realistic drawings and for the first time and thus celebrated the beauty that they recognized was embedded in the actual structure of plants. They depicted, not only the flowers and leaves and stems, but also the roots of the specimens they drew.
Crispijn de Passe the younger, (pronounced Krispin da Pass) was a Dutch engraver of this period who was also a famous creator of botanical images. In fact he was the first artist who actually depicted flowers and bulbs in collections within a context of a natural looking garden setting.
We modern gardeners are so used to seeing pictures of plants and flowers grouped together in garden settings, in books and especially in catalogs, that it is somewhat startling to realize they weren’t always depicted as collections in this way.