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A: Strasbourg, Grand Est, France

Otto Brunfels & Hans Weiditz Issue the First Accurate, Detailed Woodcuts of Plants Taken Directly from Nature

1530 to 1536

In 1530 and 1532 German botanist and theologian Otto Brunfels published the first two volumes of Herbarum vivae eicones ad nature imitationem, sum[m]a cum diligentia et artificio effigiatae. . . .  in Strassbourg. The third volume was edited by Michael Heer and published in 1536, two years after Brunfels's death.

Unlike earlier herbals, which were llustrated with conventional stylized figures, copied and recopied over the centuries from one manuscript to another, Brunfels's Herbarum was illustrated with detailed, accurate renderings of plants taken directly from nature, most of them showing all portions of the plant (root, stem, leaves, flowers and fruit), and some even going so far as to depict wilted leaves and insect damage. The artist responsible for the illustrations was Hans Weiditz; his contributions were credited in a poem appearing on leaf A4r, making him the first botanical illustrator to be recognized for his work. Comparison of Weiditz's woodcuts with the woodcuts in Leonhard Fuchs's De historia stirpium (1542) show that the artists who worked with Fuchs were strongly influenced by Weiditz's work.

In contrast to its revolutionary images, the text of the Herbarum was an uncritical compendium of quotations from older authorities, primarily concerned with the therapeutic virtues of each plant. Brunfels made no attempt to classify the plants he discussed, but related species often appear in close proximity to one another. He restricted himself to plants indigenous to Strassburg and described over forty new species. At the end of the second volume is a collection of twelve tracts edited by Brunfels, entitled De vera herbarum cognitione appendix. This includes the first published writings of both Hieronymus Bock and Leonhard Fuchs. 

Morton, History of Botanical Science (1981) 124.  Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 361.

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