Institutiones rei herbariae. [...]

Botanica - Erbario

Institutiones rei herbariae. [...] After a rather emphatic dedication to King "Ludovico Magno", Tournefort does not hesitate to properly present himself to his readers. He displays in Latin his curriculum vitae, of which he had already given a glimpse in the frontispiece, defining himself as Medical Doctor, Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, and Professor of Botany at the Botanical Gardens. There follows the critical exposition of his method of classification: from this point of view, Tournefort reveals himself to be a product of his times, fully feeling the urgency to adopt a system of classification for the Plant Kingdom. The Institutiones begin, accordingly, with a long isagoge, literally an introduction, which, however, is more of an overview of the history of botany. Nonetheless, it is not merely a case of listing botanists and their works with the occasional commentary. The isogage is rather a critical revision that examines the various positions taken up by scholars vis-à-vis the important problem of the knowledge and classification of plants, all the more compelling after the discovery of the New World, with disquisitions evolving from one author to the next. This introduction constitutes the problematic heart of the Tournefort’s work. He does not write a treatise on the argument itself, leaving it as a historical question, but the entire history serves as a means for introducing his own point of view and positions on the subject. And he supports them with many examples and comparisons, beginning with the definition of the planta, corpus organicum quod radicibus semper, seminibus forte sempere; foliis, floribus & calibus fere semper donatur (p. 54). The global structure of the vegetive organism and an analysis of the various organs of the plant, first and foremost of the flower, of which he emphasizes its explicatio usus singularum partium, lead him to formulate a classification of the plants into XXII classes, distinguished on the basis of type (herbae, suffrutices, frutices, arbores) but also according to flower structure (monopetalous, polypetalous, flosculous, semiflosculous, radiate, apetalous, etc.). Each class is then distinguished into sections and each of these into genera. The lengthy appendix is more than justified in a work of this type in which there is a constant updating. Following the appendix we have a glossary and various indices, and in addition a Corollarium with an index of the Institutiones and of the genera recently established, with an assignation to the various classes. The system proposed by Tournefort enjoyed some success, in part because there was nothing better, and it was followed throughout the 18th century. The prolific definitions of the species were finally replaced by Lenneaus’s binomial system. Nevertheless, the Institutiones represented for scholars of the time a milestone, also because it was accompanied by 2 volumes of illustrations pertaining to flowers and their components, executed with great care and precision.

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