(Un)Natural History
400 Years of Oddities, Curiosities and Exaggerations in the Pursuit of Nature and Beauty

Basilius Besler (1561 -1629)

Hortus Eystettensis (1613 - 1629)

"Arum and Cuckoopint"


"The Dragon Arum"


Basiluis Besler was a botanist and apothecary in Nuremberg, when the Bishop-Prince Johann Konrad von Gemmingen commissioned him to document the contents of his extensive Garden of Eichstätt.  Comprised of mostly exotic and ornamental plants imported from all over the world, the Prince’s garden provided an unrivaled collection of flowers, shrubs, herbs, fruits and vegetables.  To facilitate the project and at the request of Konrad, the garden eventually came under the direction of Besler.  In this sense, Besler did not have to travel any further than his own back yard to document these rarest, newest and most uncommon plants from live specimens.

Astonishingly, each plant is illustrated actual size and in full bloom.  The plates were produced and arranged by season, presenting themselves to the subscribers in the same order that the plants appeared throughout the year.  At its core, Hortus Estettensis is consumed with beauty; it is a riot of color, line and decoration. Plants are arrayed on the page in motifs, not dissimilar to illustrations found in illuminated manuscripts.  The centuries old tradition of art in the service of the written word - images literally relegated to the margins - has now been reversed.  Indeed the plant names are in highly stylized calligraphy but beyond this, the text is almost nonexistent.  Due to advances in print engraving techniques, Besler’s magnificent large folio florilegium marks a clear transition from the dominance of the descriptive word to the immediacy and supremacy of visual and pictorial elements.


Besler, "Mother-in-Law Cushion" h.c. engraving, 1613 Martina Nehrling, "Perennial" acrylic on canvas, 20x20, 2006
Martina Nehrling:
Martina Nehrling (2) Works on Paper, 7x5 & Center: "Hullabaloo" acrylic on canvas, 20x20

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(Un)Natural History


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