Exhibition: SLUB Dresden Presents “Blooming Books”


The nature might still be hibernating, but things are already starting to flower and bloom at the SLUB (Saxon State and University Library Dresden): from 27 January onward, there will be around 30 herb and flower books, dating from between the 15th and 19th century, on display in the treasure room in the Book Museum.

The range of exhibits includes an illustrated French composite manuscript from around 1480, two incunabula, the herb book produced by Torgau-based city physician Johann Kentmann for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, the 16th-century herb books by the three German “Fathers of Botany,” Otto Brunfels, Leonhart Fuchs, and Hieronymus Bock, large color-plate books complete with illustrations of exotic plants and fruits, and a volume of the prestigious work called the “Pillnitzer Centurien” (English: “Pillnitz Centurions”), complete with masterful, hand-drawn, color illustrations of plants, most of which thrived in the garden and greenhouses of Pillnitz Castle.

The drawings, paintings, woodcuts, engravings, and lithographs on display illustrate the evolution of botanical illustration, which also reflects the history of botany.

Here are a few books from the exhibition as examples:

French herbarium. Handwritten on paper. – France, between 1475 and 1480. Reference no.: Mscr.Dresd.Oc.62, P. 183r-204r. P. 192v/193r: Scabiosa.

French Herbarium (1475-1480)

French herbarium. Handwritten on paper. – France, between 1475 and 1480. Reference no.: Mscr.Dresd.Oc.62, p. 183r-204r.

Provenance: Wilhelm Scheiffart von Merode, Lord of Limbricht and Hemmersbach in the Rhineland (d. 1510); The House of Arenberg; Heinrich, Count of Brühl (1700-1763), whose library was bought in 1768 and brought to Dresden for the Electoral Library

This anonymous French herbarium consists of 22 full-page, color pen drawings of medicinal plants, accompanied by descriptions of the medicinal effects of the distillates obtained from them. It is part of a composite manuscript, which mostly contains morally didactic texts such as the second part of Henri de Ferrières’s allegorical work “Le livre du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio,” all about vice and misfortune at the time of Charles V of France (1364–1380), complete with 30 pen drawings, and “Enseignements moraux” (“Moral teachings”) by Christine de Pisan (1364–post 1429). When the Japanese Palais, which was home to the Saxon State Library at the time, was destroyed in 1945, the manuscript sustained severe water damage, causing the ink and colors to fade.

Johannes Kentmann: Kreutterbuch. (“Book of herbs”) Handwritten on paper. – Torgau, 1563. Reference no.: Mscr.Dresd.B.71, P. 171v: Malva.

Johannes Kentmann (1563)

Johannes Kentmann: Kreutterbuch. (English: “Book of herbs.”) Book of six hundred beautiful, exquisite local and foreign sprouts, trees, shrubs, hedges, and herbs, as well as their flowers, seeds, leaves, and roots… August Duke of Saxony…Prince-Elector…diligently assembled…

Handwritten on paper. – Torgau, 1563. Reference no.: Mscr.Dresd.B.71

Provenance: recorded as number one under “Herb books and pharmacopoeias” in the first catalog of the Electoral Library (1574).

After completing his studies in Leipzig and Wittenberg, Padua and Bologna, the doctor Johannes Kentmann (1518–1574) worked as a city physician in Meißen from 1550 and in Torgau from 1554. He dedicated his handwritten book of herbs to Augustus, Elector of Saxony (1526-1586), whose wife, Anna, Princess of Denmark, was particularly interested in botanical and pharmaceutical books. There are 600 plants pictured in this 300-page volume. Most are of Central European origin and nearly a third are of Mediterranean origin; some of them even originate from the New World and from tropical and subtropical areas. The masterful plant illustrations, painted in egg tempera colors, were produced later by Szczecin-born court painter David Redtel (d. 1591), who based his illustrations on the color drawings Kentmann had done during his stay in Italy (the so-called “Codex Kentmanus,” now in the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar).

Hendrik van Reede tot Drakenstein: Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, Continens Regni Malabarici apud Indos celeberrimi omnis generis plantas rariores / [3]. – Amstelodami: van Someren [i.a.], 1682. Reference no.: Botan.297-3. Plate 52.

Hendrik van Reede tot Drakenstein (1678–1703)

Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, Continens Regni Malabarici apud Indos celeberrimi omnis generis plantas rariores: Latinis, Malabaricis, Arabicis, & Bramanum Characteribus nominibusque expressas, etc.

12 Vols. – Amsterdam: van Someren [i.a.], 1678–1703. Reference no.: Botan.298

Provenance: unknown; newly bound in 1715 and adorned with the supralibros of Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony (also King August II of Poland).

As a Dutch governor of Malabar, a region on the southwest coast of India, van Reede tot Drakestein (around 1636–1691) became fascinated with the tropical and subtropical vegetation there. He had some local doctors and botanists compile a large collection of plants, illustrate them, and then publish them all in a comprehensive work, complete with 794 engravings, as well as descriptions by missionary Johann Caesarius (1642–1677) and many other authors. Each illustration is accompanied by the plant’s Latin, Malayalam (the language spoken in Malabar), Arabic and Sanskrit names.

Pierre-Joseph Buc’hoz: Nouveau traité physique et économique, par forme de dissertations de toutes les plantes qui croissent sur la surface du globe. – Vol. 1. – Paris, 1787. Reference no.: Botan.23-1. Cocoa.

Pierre-Joseph Buc’hoz (1787–1794)

Nouveau traité physique et économique par forme de dissertations de toutes les plantes qui croissent sur la surface du globe, etc.

4 Vols. – 2. éd. revue, corrigée, augmentée. – Paris, 1787–1794. Reference no.: Botan.23-1

Provenance: unknown; first recorded as an addendum in the library catalog of 1784

Metz-born physician Dr. Buc’hoz (1731–1807), who was temporarily a Royal-Polish private physician and worked as a demonstrator at the Collège royal de médecine in Nancy, published more than 300 scientific works. A third of these works were published in folio form with a large number of copper plates, which he financed using donations from the French royal family. The volume displayed in this exhibition is part of a new revised, improved, and extended reprint of Buc’hoz’s “Histoire universelle du règne végétal,” which, in turn, forms part of his unfinished “Histoire générale et économique des trois règnes de la nature.” The work comprises an ordered series of essays about individual crop plants from other countries, including luxury products tobacco, cocoa, coffee, and tea.


Other Information You Might Be Interested In:

The exhibition will be open until 23 April 2020 in the treasure room in the Book Museum of the SLUB. You can find information about all of the books in the exhibition, as well as links to digital scans, on the SLUB website. This is also where you can find opening times and dates of upcoming talks and guided tours.