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Tag: Garden & Landscape

“A Smell that is Not Good”: Ferns in Early Modern Medicine

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

Although flowers predominate in most early books of medicine printed in Europe, ferns have long been used alongside them. While many books about the development of botany and medicine do mention ferns, they have received little attention as a distinct category. This post highlights a selection of ferns that appear in medicinal plant books published in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth centuries.

Jacob Meydenbach, Ortus sanitatis, chapter CC.

Jacob Meydenbach, Ortus sanitatis, chapter CC.

This fern, which the text describes as a plant that “has neither a trunk, nor a flower, nor fruit” and “has a smell that is not good,” comes from the oldest book in Dumbarton Oaks’ Rare Book Collection. The Ortus sanitatis, or “Garden of Health,” was an herbal published in 1491 as a reference work for doctors and apothecaries. Among the uses the text claims for this fern is that, when dried and ground and made into a poultice, it would cure congestion. The numerous “manicules”, or little hands pointing to important passages in the section on each plant’s use, show that this was a working copy.

In this herbal, the images of plants are stylized and conventionalized. The fern above is leafy and generic, with no root and no venation—the image does look like a fern, but we need the label contained in the text to confirm our identification. Although the fern woodcut does not repeat, some of the other entries in the Ortus sanitatis even share the same image for different plant species. Paying someone to create new illustrations was expensive, so plants that looked similar enough could share the same image.

Antoine Du Pinet, Historia plantarum, 630-631.

Antoine Du Pinet, Historia plantarum, 630-631.

Antoine Du Pinet’s pocket herbal (1567), published nearly 80 years later than Meydenbach’s book, and heavily indebted to Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s Commentary on Dioscorides, shows ferns that display increased botanical specificity. Both ferns in the image have root systems, unlike that in the Ortus, and the leaves are more distinctly rendered. The fern on the recto has numerous small blades, while the fern on the verso has larger and more rounded blades, with the sporangia visible. (‘Sporangia’ are the structures that enclose ferns’ spores.) While the leaves are rendered in broad strokes, this herbal accounts for more than one species of fern.

Giovanni Battista Morandi, Historia botanica practica, plate 4.

Giovanni Battista Morandi, Historia botanica practica, plate 4.

The illustrations’ specificity increases again in a third book about plants’ medical uses, Morandi’s Historia botanica practica (1744). While Meydenbach’s herbal made it possible to tell that the image was of a fern and Du Pinet’s book made a few distinctions between the ferns included, Morandi’s four ferns multiply the differences between the species pictured. More attention is now given to leaf shapes, root forms, venation, and sporangia than in the two earlier works, making it increasingly easy to use the images to identify a fern specimen.

Du Pinet, Antoine. Historia plantarum. Lyon: the widow of Gabriel Coterius, 1567.

Meydenbach, Jacob. Ortus sanitatis. Mainz: 1491.

Morandi, Giovanni Battista. Historia botanica practica. Milan: Petrus Franciscus Malatesta, 1744.

Hearts and Flowers

by sarahkburke

"Quae cordis specimen referunt plantae" from Giambattista della Porta's Phytognomonica (1588)

“Quae cordis specimen referunt plantae” from Giambattista della Porta’s Phytognomonica (1588)

Giambattista della Porta (1535?-1615) was the polymath founder of the Academia Secretorum Naturae, the forerunner of the Accademia dei Lincei.  Phytognomonica perpetuates the “doctrine of signatures,” the idea that the shape of a plant can tell us about its medical uses.

In this image, we can see fruits and roots in the shape of hearts, along with an image of the organ itself.  Perhaps a bouquet of Valeriana–make sure to include the ostensibly cordiform roots–would be a suitable gift for someone suffering from heartache this Valentine’s Day?

Depicting ferns

by sarahkburke

A nature print by Henry Bradbury in Thomas Moore's The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland (1855)

A nature print by Henry Bradbury in Thomas Moore’s The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland (1855)

Ferns are relatively flat, making them particularly amenable to a variety of illustration techniques and decorative uses. Of course ferns have been depicted primarily using the standard illustration processes of a given period, specifically engravings and chromolithographs when we look at the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But their format has led to a striking variety of documentary technologies. Ferns are (metaphorically, if not biologically) fruitful sites for experimentation with illustration techniques.

Anna Atkins, "Title page of British Ferns'" (1852)  © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Anna Atkins, “Title page of British Ferns'” (1852) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Perhaps the best-known examples of fern illustration are the cyanotypes produced by Anna Atkins, who used this early photographic method to document seaweeds and ferns. The cyanotype process is familiar to us today from architectural blueprints—and is widely available for both children’s art projects and home crafters. The technique entails placing objects on sensitized paper, exposing it to light, and then washing the paper to fix the negative image on a dark blue background. The cyanotype process is a type of photogram, a general term for creating a negative image on light-sensitive paper, no camera required. Dumbarton Oaks holds three photograms of ferns, all nineteenth-century French, and therefore of the same period as Atkins and fern mania.

One of three French photograms at Dumbarton Oaks

One of three French photograms at Dumbarton Oaks

The Victorian fad for ferns also led to experiments with using ferns as stencils for paint or for smoke, using soot from candle smoke to produce negative images of ferns on blank paper. Ferns appeared in a wide variety of decorative arts, including ceramics and architectural details. For more on this trend, see a previous post on this blog.

Another experimental type of image often associated with ferns is the nature print. While photograms make a negative image of an item against a darker background, nature printing most often uses the physical specimen to make an impression on a printing plate.

The two most familiar names in the history of this technique are Alois Auer, of Vienna’s Imperial Printing Office, and Henry Bradbury, who produced the illustrations for Thomas Moore’s The ferns of Great Britain and Ireland (1855). These illustrations make use of the softness of lead plates. Ferns were placed between a plate of lead and a plate of steel, exposed to pressure, and then removed; the lead would retain an impression of the specimen, and could be used to produce an electrotype plate for printing. It is obvious that Bradbury’s plates were created from specimens—one can see the flaws and characteristics of the specific plants. The plates do an excellent job of depicting fronds and stems, including veins and other minutiae. In many cases the roots are reduced to a blur. In some instances the locations of sporangia have been added by hand—a creative attempt to compensate for something left out in the process of creating the nature print.

Nature printing described in the preface to Thomas Moore's The ferns of Great Britain and Ireland (1855)

Nature printing described in the preface to Thomas Moore’s The ferns of Great Britain and Ireland (1855)


Both Auer and Bradbury were active in the 1850s, and each developed methods that entailed using a plant to create a plate. Over the centuries, there have also been many examples of printing directly from a plant. One fifteenth-century example, which includes a fern, is now found in the Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg.

A new acquisition to the Dumbarton Oaks collection is Johann Hieronymus Kniphof’s 1733 “herbarium vivum.” He continued this effort in several subsequent publications, but this was his first, and it is a fascinating example of experiments in capturing the likeness of a plant. Scientifically, many of the illustrations lack important details; the more useful parts of many illustrations have been added after the fact, by hand. But there is something particularly compelling about the desire to document a specimen with such fidelity.

Staghorn fern from Johann Kniphof's book of nature prints (1733)

Staghorn fern from Johann Kniphof’s book of nature prints (1733)

For comparison, here is the same print without the hand coloring, from ULB Sachsen-Anhalt.

Staghorn fern from Johann Kniphof's book of nature prints (1733), without hand coloring

Staghorn fern from Johann Kniphof’s book of nature prints (1733), without hand coloring

Photograms and nature prints were for the most part superseded by advances in photographic reproduction in the late nineteenth century. Much has been written about the meaning of changing modes of botanical representation—a quick nod to Daston and Gallison’s Objectivity will have to suffice for now—but it should be said that although there may be a general trajectory by which one can track changing trends, there are always interesting experiments occurring around the periphery.

“Ferns will grow where flowering plants would perish”

by sarahkburke

From Francis George Heath's The Fern Paradise: A Plea for the Culture of Ferns.

From Francis George Heath’s The Fern Paradise: A Plea for the Culture of Ferns.

1850s London, as described by Charles Dickens in Bleak House: “Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.” The soot, the mud, the heavy London fog are used by Dickens to introduce the confusion and corruption of London’s High Court of Chancery, but the description also captures a very real environmental phenomenon in London. Fifty years later, Claude Monet’s paintings of Parliament documented the same heavy smog, the result of coal smoke and gas lamps.

There were early innovators, such as Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814) and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who developed “smoke-free” stoves to remove smoke from within the home. But this smoke could only go so far, and it became the key ingredient of the pea soupy miasma of industrial cities.

This smog killed people. It is also worth noting that the increased use of coal, beginning in the eighteenth century, was predicated on awful working conditions for miners and their families. In this context, it may not seem particularly tragic that the smog could make it difficult to maintain a tasteful garden! But it is fascinating to tease out how technologies (and people) adapt to changing circumstances. The introduction of the Wardian Case, invented by and named for Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791-1868), is an excellent example.

From N. B. Ward's On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases.

From N. B. Ward’s On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases.

This case, akin to a terrarium, became popular very quickly because it could foster the growth of delicate plants in a sealed system. This protection was necessary because of the aforementioned air pollution, as well as the increasing interest in delicate plants such as ferns. It became so commonplace that in 1856 Shirley Hibberd asked, “Who would live contentedly, or consider a sitting-room furnished, without either a Ward’s Case or an Aquarium?”; the cases were popular among the middle class audience reached by authors like Hibberd and J. C. Loudoun. They were costly enough to be status symbols but less prohibitively expensive once English excise duties on glass were lifted in 1845. They created climates that suited the exotic plants imported and sold by nurseries such as that run by the Loddiges family. The cases compounded their own utility by being used onboard ships to transport fragile plants from overseas. And, as indicated by Hibberd, their design suited the Victorian taste for features like aviaries and aquariums.

From Shirley Hibberd's The Fern Garden.

From Shirley Hibberd’s The Fern Garden.

Wardian cases could support flowers, moss, and ivy. But Ward’s initial goal had been to develop a safe environment for his ferns. The Wardian case was one of the many manifestations of the Victorian fern craze, along with the cultivation of rockeries, the collection of pressed specimens, the creation of cyanotypes and nature prints (about which I will write further in an upcoming post), and other manifestations in decorative art. The cases, unlike some of these other technologies, could host living ferns and could remain on display as part of the furniture of a tasteful drawing room. Ferns were suited to the era’s fascination with the delicate, the intricate, and (to return to Hibberd) there are those who argued that it required excellent discernment to appreciate ferns, precisely because they were not gaudy with flowers.

What is coal? It is, ironically, the product of ferns. Over 300 million years ago, our earth was inhabited by giant insects and ferns the height of trees. When those ferns died, they sank into the swampy ground and compressed, first into peat and later into coal. This fossil fuel, when burnt, filled cities with smog and necessitated new technologies to protect fashionable plants.

From John Lindley's The Treasury of Botany.

Tree ferns in Java, from John Lindley’s The Treasury of Botany.

Allen, David Elliston. The Victorian Fern Craze: A History of Pteridomania. London: Hutchinson, 1969.

Heath, Francis George. The Fern Paradise: A Plea for the Culture of Ferns. Sixth edition. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1880.

Hibberd, Shirley. Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste: And Recreations for Town Folk, in the Study and Imitation of Nature. London: Groombridge and Sons, 1856.

Hibberd, Shirley. The Fern Garden, How to Make, Keep, and Enjoy It, Or, Fern Culture Made Easy. 2d. ed. London: Groombridge and Sons, 1869.

Lindley, John. The Treasury of Botany: A Popular Dictionary of the Vegetable Kingdom. New edition. London: Longmans, Green, and co, 1873.

Ward, N. B. On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases. 2nd. ed. London: John Van Voorst, 1852.

Highlights of the Music Exhibit, Pt. 1

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

Dumbarton Oaks has been humming with activity this year, much of it about sound and the senses. There is a temporary sound sculpture in the gardens right now, surprising and delighting those who pass by the Lover’s Lane Pool, and the Byzantine and the Garden and Landscape Studies symposia this spring both took the senses as their theme. To harmonize with these events, the spring 2014 library exhibit centered on music, including the Exultet rolls we featured earlier this year.

When the exhibit came down last week, we wanted to memorialize some of its highlights here in cyberspace, so that they would live on even after all of our gathered books had been re-shelved.

One of the cases of the exhibit

One of the exhibit cases

The exhibit featured materials from all three sections of Dumbarton Oaks’ Library—Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian—as well as material from the Dumbarton Oaks Archives and the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives. The exhibit emphasized Byzantium to complement the Byzantine symposium and to provide material for the Byzantine Greek summer school here, but there were items to appeal to scholars in all three programs as well as to those interested in the history of music. The archival material will be featured in its own post on Friday, so check the blog again soon!

In the absence of pre-conquest American musical notation, representing Pre-Columbian cultures was perhaps the biggest challenge. The exhibit showcased ethnographic studies of traditional music as well as depictions of people playing music in facsimiles of early codices. Two examples involved the conch shell, which appeared as an instrument both in photographs of Moche pottery and in our facsimile of the Aztec Codex Borbonicus. Below is my picture of the Codex Borbonicus, and you can go here for Guaman Poma’s depiction of the Inca messenger, or chasqui, who played the conch shell. A fact I enjoy about the conch shell is that it is sometimes known in Quechua as the ‘pututu,’ which is a wonderful onomatopoeia.

Facsimile of the Codex Borbonicus, including a man playing a shell

Facsimile of the Codex Borbonicus, including a man playing a shell

I had two favorites from the items we displayed from the Garden Rare Book Collection. One was a French comic opera from 1761 called Le Jardinier et Son Seigneur, or “The Gardener and his Master.” While that book fit our theme precisely, the contents of my other favorite had nothing to do with music at all: this one was a book printed in the early seventeenth century, titled Cognoscite lilia agri quomodo crescant, or “Learn how the lilies of the field grow.” It is an early, pre-Linnaean, book of engravings of flowers and plants, so it provides valuable material for the study of early modern botany. So why did we choose this book for our music exhibit? Flower engravings, although interesting, seem to have nothing to do with music. We chose it, however, not for its contents, but for its binding—when it was printed in the 1610s, it was bound in a sheet of medieval music, specifically the Latin Office for the Dead, as we can see below.



Interior engraving

Interior engraving

The facsimiles of Byzantine and medieval music are not so photogenic as the other items, but they lay at the heart of the exhibit. Juxtaposed with transcriptions by modern scholars providing modern musical notation when possible, images of musical manuscripts were displayed for study both of the texts and of musical notation in the last centuries of Byzantium. Although our understanding of Byzantine music is imperfect, these manuscripts provide insight into the history of liturgy and polyphonic music that still form part of modern Orthodox services. We also displayed facsimiles of western medieval and medieval Slavic musical manuscripts, the latter influenced by the Byzantine tradition, so that viewers could compare and contrast how early written music worked and changed in Europe.

Image sources, in order of appearance:

Codex Borbonicus, Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée nationale, Paris (Y 120) : vollständige Faksimile-Ausg. des Codex im Originalformat (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1974). [HOLLIS]

Crispijn van de Passe, Cognoscite lilia agri quomodo crescant (Cologne?, ca. 1614). [HOLLIS]


Healing Plants from Brazil

by sarahkburke

This post is provided by Bridget Gazzo, Librarian for Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks.

plate 22, Davilla rugosa

plate 22, Davilla rugosa

Saint-Hilaire, Auguste Francois César Prouvencal de, 1799-1853. Plantes Usuelles des Brasiliens. Paris, Grimbert (printed by Casimir), 1824-1828. [HOLLIS]

From the beginning of Brazil’s colonization by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, Europeans were keenly interested in its biodiversity. Jesuit priests, the first foreigners to make direct contact with native Brazilians, integrated Brazilian botanical remedies into European medicine. The French botanist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire was one of the first scientists to freely travel throughout Brazil, from 1816 to 1822. Saint-Hilaire, born in Orleans in 1799, had the opportunity to accompany the Duke of Luxembourg on his journey to Brazil to assume his post as French Ambassador in Rio de Janeiro in 1816. Saint-Hilaire spent the next six years traveling ten thousand kilometers to explore the southern provinces of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Espiritu-Santo, Mato Grosso, Cisplatina (currently Uruguay), and the old missions in Paraguay. He returned to France carrying 7000 plant species, 4500 of which were unknown to science at the time. These collections are deposited in Paris’ Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, along with Saint-Hilaire’s six volumes of field books. In his field books, Saint-Hilaire registered the vernacular names of the plants and, very importantly, also provided descriptions of the traditional uses.

While data from many species recorded in the field books has been published, as many as 75 species from these manuscripts have not been published by Saint-Hilaire or by later scientists. These field books continue to be a trove of unstudied raw material. The most common traditional uses recorded for the plants identified were as purgatives and febrifuges. Next in frequency were treatments for venereal disease, snake bites, and diuretics. Many of these efficacies have been, and continue to be, confirmed by laboratory studies.

Plantes Usuelles des Brasiliens (1824-[1828]) is one of Saint-Hilaire’s major publications on native Brazilian plants and their beneficial uses. Dumbarton Oaks has recently acquired a copy of this work, which will supplement research in Pre-Columbian Studies and the exciting, interdisciplinary work being done on the history of science in the New World. The first plant described and illustrated is none other than Strychnos faux-quinquina, with nom vulgaire quina do campo, highlighting the intense nineteenth-century interest in quinine and quinine substitutes. Another quinine substitute included in the book is Solanum pseudoquina. (Cinchona, the traditional source of quinine, was often over-collected, leading to the search for substitutes.) The author dedicates the book to the Emperor of Brazil, Pedro I, with gratitude for the constant protection of his Majesty’s government during six years of traveling through Brazil. Our newly acquired copy is an especially interesting object because of its hand-colored images and its retention of the publisher’s original boards and wrappers.

plate 21, Solanum pseudoquina

plate 21, Solanum pseudoquina

Anda gomesii

Anda gomesii

Guillaume-Antoine Olivier

by sarahkburke

This text was generously prepared by Deniz Turker Cerda, Dumbarton Oaks Tyler Fellow, 2013–2015.  It is included in the online exhibit, “The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century.”

"Bosphore de Thrace"

“Bosphore de Thrace”

Only two short years before Napoleon brought one hundred of his savants to study all that could be known about Egypt and draw up the monumental imperial opus, Description de l’Égypte, two French physicians were sent over to the region to undertake a naturalist’s version of scientific information gathering. Guillaume-Antoine Olivier, a dedicated entomologist, and Jean Guillaume Bruguière, a renowned specialist of mollusks, were dispatched by members of the Directoire in the tumultuous post-Revolution years to study the natural history of the Ottoman lands, including its provinces, Egypt and Syria. Before their trip, Olivier and Bruguière had already collaborated on numerous zoological projects, especially regarding early-evolutionary theories with their colleague Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.  The duo’s scientific partnership came to a hiatus when Bruguière died in Corfu on their return journey. “No one had gone deeper than Bruguière into the class so difficult, so numerous, and so diversified of worms, mollusca, and conchylia,” Olivier would eulogize. The work they prepared, Voyage dans l’empire Othoman, l’Egypte et la Perse, was published in the early years of the nineteenth century.

"Coquilles Terrestres"

“Coquilles Terrestres”

It was ‘citizen’ Olivier, who then penned a multi-volume memoir of their six-year journey, dating each day, month and year in the French Republican calendar.  During the trip, Olivier’s guidebook was the relatively recent publication titled Travels through Egypt and Syria in the years 1783, 1784, and 1785, which was penned by the erstwhile Egyptologist, and self-made figure of the enlightenment Comte de Volney (born Constantin François de Chassebœuf). The ‘citizen-physician’ Olivier narrates his travels with an empiricist’s drive while willfully suppressing the period’s romantic impulse towards the sublime: “The sight of a deserted field, covered with myrtles, or a garden confusedly planted with date and orange trees could never inflame my imagination; and I have frequently surveyed, without astonishment, truncated capitals and scattered columns.” He made his botanical observations with an eye for trade such as the cup of a velani oak (used in tanning and dyeing), the hairy-cupped oak (sourced for ship and home-building), and the Aleppo gall (from Quercus infectoria for medicinal purposes).

"Quercus infectoria"

“Quercus infectoria,” an image of interest for historians of the book as well–iron gall ink is extracted from oak galls.

Jacques Martin Cels, who had survived the guillotine as a duty collector and recreated himself as the proprietor of a botanical garden in Paris, was the sole-recipient of Olivier’s plant specimens, while the shell collection is still in the National Museum of Natural History, Paris.

Twice along their arduous journey, when their safety was jeopardized and they needed transportation aid first from a local ruler and later from a janissary, their skills as physicians came in handy in curing the former’s presumed terminal illness and the latter’s venereal disease. Their journey also coincided with the overhaul of the French imperial consul in the Ottoman territories. Therefore, half-way through their trip, the naturalists found themselves having to play the part of diplomats, and were rerouted to Tehran to revitalize the Franco-Persian trade against Russia’s budding imperial ambitions in the region. The numerous maps attached to these memoirs are topographic feats that signal the impending French plans over the region.

"Carte de la Syrie, de la Mésopotamie, et d'une Partie de la Perse."

“Carte de la Syrie, de la Mésopotamie, et d’une Partie de la Perse.”


Ribbit!… croak!… and some frog prints.

by sarahkburke

Frog in the Ellipse, courtesy of Elena Velkovska

Frog in the Ellipse, courtesy of Elena Velkovska

Spring is a terrific time to spot wildlife in the Ellipse fountain pool at Dumbarton Oaks. The aquatic habitat includes native water plants which, at this early point in the year, are still sparse—affording excellent views of turtles, fish, and frogs. Ducks are routinely spotted, and heron have ended the lives of several unfortunate amphibians.

As the days get warmer and flowers finally bloom (following a very long winter), enthusiasm for spring is taking over among the Staff and Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks. Many of us have been spotted acting like paparazzi, sneaking as stealthily as possible towards known frog habitats in an attempt to get a good glimpse (even a photograph) before being noticed. Soon we will be able to see tadpoles in the fountain pool. For now, the confident survivors of last summer dominate the space: large bullfrogs unfazed by approaching spectators.

15th-16th c. golden frog ornaments (Mixtec/Aztec), from "Gold of the Americas" by Julie Jones and Heidi King (2002)

15th-16th c. golden frog ornaments (Mixtec/Aztec), from “Gold of the Americas” by Julie Jones and Heidi King (2002)

All of this has led to a certain amount of frog frenzy, and some of us in the Library have started looking for frogs in our own habitat. Bridget Gazzo, Librarian for Pre-Columbian Studies, recently staged an exhibit on gold of the Circum-Caribbean world; the exhibit included a number of images of frogs, which were frequently rendered in gold in this region.

Chiriqui frog, from "Ancient Art of the Province of Chiriqui, Colombia," by William H. Holmes (1888)

Chiriqui frog, from “Ancient Art of the Province of Chiriqui, Colombia,” by William H. Holmes (1888)

We checked the Vienna Dioscorides for Byzantine frogs but, while it includes a number of salamanders and snakes, there were no frogs to be found. There is no shortage of late medieval frogs, however, if one consults the 1491 Hortus sanitatis. In one case, a man removes a bufonite (a variant of a bezoar stone) from the head of a toad, a practice we cannot condone. (Did you know there is no taxonomic distinction between frogs and toads?)

Bufonite, from the "Hortus sanitatis"

Bufonite, from the “Hortus sanitatis”

Rana marina, from "Hortus sanitatis." The same woodblock is used in both the section on animals and the section on fish.

Rana marina, from “Hortus sanitatis.” The same woodblock is used in both the section on animals and the section on fish.

Mark Catesby observed several frogs in The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Some of them may be ancestors of the stream- and pond-dwellers of today’s Southeastern United States. Given the recent conclusion of Passover, we hope this blog post does not feel like a plague of frogs, but rather a celebration of their welcome presence as a sign of spring.

Catesby's Bull Frog

Catesby’s Bull Frog

Catesby's Water Frog

Catesby’s Water Frog

Sketches from the fairest objects of science

by sarahkburke

It is March 25. This is what it looks like at Dumbarton Oaks today:

photo 1The winter jasmine is covered in snow. Daffodils that had dared to bloom now droop toward the ground. My colleagues are shoveling and salting the walkways, again. Today, the best place to look for flowers is in the Rare Book Collection. One slim volume is particularly heartwarming on a chilly day, inasmuch as it was a handmade gift for a relation. Dated July 1789, bound in marbled paper, cataloged as Watercolors of flowers and butterflies, the manuscript was prepared for a Mrs. Whyte “by her obliged relation R. B. F.”

"Monsonia--Cape of Good Hope"

“Monsonia–Cape of Good Hope”

R. B. F. calls them “sketches from the fairest objects of a Science she [Mrs. Whyte] so much approves.” The paintings show flowers, some native to England but many from South Africa and the Americas. Three of the fourteen flowers are accompanied by insects: a bee moth, a cream-spot tiger moth, and a red admiral butterfly. But they were not all drawn from nature.

"Cream-spot tyger-moth, & Vinca major-Periwinkle -- England"

“Cream-spot tyger-moth, & Vinca major-Periwinkle — England”

In fact, several images in the book seem to derive from plants included in the first volumes of William Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-garden Displayed, the first volume of which appeared in 1787. See, for example, the image of Passiflora alata (winged-stem passion flower) from Curtis beside the image of the same from the R. B. F. manuscript.

Left: William Curtis. The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-garden Displayed.  Plate 66.  Right: "Passiflora alata-winged passion flower--West India"

Left: William Curtis. The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-garden Displayed. Plate 66. Right: “Passiflora alata-winged passion flower–West India”

Curtis’s magazine which, after several title changes, is still published today, made botany and botanical art available to a wider audience than had previously had access to such work.  This manuscript is a fascinating example of the presence of such knowledge in domestic contexts, the re-use of published images, and of the interest in botanical illustration among non-specialist audiences at the end of the eighteenth century. It vibrates with life: brightly-colored flowers accompanied by winged insects, images copied carefully as a gesture of affection.


“While I contrived to dedicate myself to the study of Botany”

by sarahkburke

The newest online exhibit from Dumbarton Oaks explores the Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century. One of the featured items in this exhibit is an eighteenth-century manuscript copy of Paolo Boccone’s Museo de Piante rare (1697). The manuscript was prepared by Aloysio Cabrini.  Based on his interest in medicinal plants, it seems possible that Cabrini may have been a pharmacist.

This 1791 manuscript consists of hand-drawn copies of nearly every engraving from Boccone’s 1697 Museo. Many of the illustrations are accompanied by Linnaean names, reflecting eighteenth-century developments that revolutionized the study of natural history. In addition, the volume has at least sixteen original images of plants that had not been included in the earlier publication.

Hypericum crispum in Boccone (left) and Cabrini (right)

Hypericum crispum in Boccone (left) and Cabrini (right)

Some of the plants Cabrini adds are common Mediterranean flowers such as the Calendula officinalis (or marigold) and the Rosa gallica. To others, such as Aristolochia longa vera officinarum, Cabrini ascribes medical uses. He recommends Assarum officinarum as a substitute for Ipecachuana [sic] succedanea, an emetic.  He recommends both Uva ursi and Vita-Idaea (perhaps Vaccinium vitis-idaea, or lingonberry) for cases of “stone.”

Cabrini’s manuscript copies only the printed tables from the Museo, omitting Boccone’s text. The addition of classification information to the images, as well as the occasional addition of new morphological details—often the flower or the calyx—required more space, so that the plants from one printed plate can easily occupy several leaves in Cabrini’s manuscript. The new details are significant given the prominent use of flowers and sepals in eighteenth-century systems of plant identification.

Approximate area of Cabrini's botanical study

Approximate area of Cabrini’s botanical study

Cabrini’s region seems to have been the area east of the Appenine Mountains, between Ancona and Pescara on Italy’s east coast, perhaps based in the city of Macerata. In his preface Cabrini mentions that he borrowed a copy of Boccone’s Museo from a doctor. He believed that he could improve it by introducing information from Linnaeus.

The following images show Cabrini’s handwritten preface:

preface, page 1

preface, page 2

A transcription of the Latin follows:

Praefatio & Operis ratio.

Dum me ad Botanicae studium dedicare, voluptatem haud paucam et utilem mihi afferre excogitabam; tot tantorum hominum illustrium vestigia sequutus, non labori, non sudoribus, neque impensis peperci ad incommodas per accliviores Appeninos montes peregrinationes suscipiendas, nec non diuturnas intra patriam herborisationes.  Tum classicorum Autorum opera reconsulebam, inter quae ea cl. Linnaei frequentius. In speciebus recognoscendis Musei Petr. Bocconi panormitani Ill. Vir magni faciebat.  Quidam medicus amicus illud mihi rarum opus  gratie mutuabat.  Hoc restituto hinc quanti esse faciendum et quam mihi fare necessarium praevidebam.  Optimum ideo duxi ruditer ab eo imitare tabulas, hisce praeter sua Linnaei generica nec non specifica nomina frasesque inscribere, ullas Ill. Halleri notas ad lumen revocare; hinc demum in colligando opus sexdecim alteras addere icones, quae, nesciendo ubi eas inserere in botanices oblectamentis mihi specimen dabant, et sunt: (1) Jacea-Intybacea, idest Centaurea-nudicaulis Linnaei, quae ex cel. Scopoli sententia, quum sit planta adhuc in propria specie obscura, ideo ipsius Linnaei herbarium a cl. Smithio Londini possessum esset consulendum ut ad quam ex duobus iconibus pertineat decideremus. (2) Campanula-Erinus Linn. lecta in peculiari viridario Maceratae atque abbunde in Piceni peregrinationibus reperta; etiam Viola-grandiflora, que videtur confondere cum sequenti (3) Viola-calcarata prope Nursiae appenninos passim collecta ambae Violae-Tricoloris L. progenies.  (4) Thea-Bohea L. species in mensae deliciis vera, et admodum diversa a Thee-Sinensium, sive Tsia-Japonica in hocce Bocconis Museo tab. 94 exculpta. (5) Coffea-arabica Linn. Coffeae-occidentalis exquisitior. (6) Aristolochia-longa vera officinarum regni neapolitani incola, quam plurimi pharmacopoei certe ignorant inscienterque Clematite pro longa Aristolochia utuntur et venditant. (7) Assarum-officinarum, cuius radices majori datae dosi exoticae Ipecachuanae succedaneae ex cel. Amico medico mihi ordinatae multoties suppeditavi. (8) Uva ursi officinarum herba in calculosis tam praestantior ne mihi cum (9) Vite-Idaea confunderetur libentius comparata (10) Croton-tinctorium primus credo inter botanicae peregrinatores Italiae Appeninorum incolam invenisse romani agri vinetis etiam familiarem; quam optandum Itali ad instar Belgii, Palli &c. pro re tinctoria adhiberent. (11) Comunissimum Solanum-nigrum, (12) Calendula-officinalis, (13) Prunus-spinosa, (14) Ageratum-officinarum, (15) Rosa-gallica, (16) Geranium-malacoides Linn; quae moenia Piceni urbium passim inhabitat, quarum conplurimas Florae Piceni catalogus, ac Prodromus iam incohatus enumerabat.  At optimorum mecenatum deficientia fataque adversa prohibuerunt.

Enjoy working through some of Cabrini’s Latin composition!  (The description of Jacea-Intybacea in particular has prompted a fair amount of head-scratching.)

Cabrini concludes his introduction with a lament about his lack of a patron as well as his “fata adversa.” If he was indeed based in Macerata, he was at a significant distance from the Italian hubs of botanical research, such as Pisa and Padua. Perhaps he had hoped to publish his additions to Boccone’s book, but found himself stymied by the complicated systems of scientific publication and patronage in eighteenth-century Europe.

Vitis Idaea Officinarum

Vitis Idaea Officinarum