De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, maximis impensis et vigiliis elaborati, adiectis earvndem vivis plvsqvam quingentis imaginibus, nunquam antea ad naturæ imitationem artificiosius effictis & expressis, Leonharto Fvchsio medico hac nostra ætate
Farmaceutica - Erbari
The De Historia stirpium of 1542 immediately presents us with three color portraits opposite the frontispiece: the two draughtsmen of the plants and the engraver of the plates. It is not just a question of impressing the reader, effected also by the frontispiece which itself displays a colored holly plant. It is rather a sort of understood declaration of intent concerning the iconographic wealth of the work, underscored further still by the image of the author himself on the back of the frontispiece, shown standing, at 41 years of age, engulfed in a fur-lined red cloak and holding in his hand a small plant with opposite leaves and red flowers. Those images are missing, needless to say, in the amazing original manuscript of 20 years prior housed in the National Library of Vienna. The text is preceded by a long dedication to prince Joachim of Brandenburg, in which, positing the divine origin of the plant divisions as a truth of faith, the author undertakes a long historical disquisition on botany, on the knowledge of the species and on their representation. There follows a glossary, an alphabetical index of names in Greek, another of names in Latin, another of the medicinal names, the index of names in German and two appendices "in capo." Then we have the text itself, a true herbal that distinguishes itself for the quality of the drawings and their perfect chromaticity (at least for the times). On the left-hand side of the image, we find the Latin denomination, typically binominal, and, on the right-hand side, the common name in German. Parallel to the full-page illustrations, we have the descriptive information of the species, which begins with the names in various languages, the genera (not in the modern sense of the term, but in the sense of species), the form (the phytographic characteristics), the locus (the distribution area), the tempus (indicating the best time for harvesting) and the temperamentum (the qualities attributed to the species in question by the classical authors, that is to say, by Dioscorides, Galen and Pliny, plus sometimes by others such as Marcus Emilius, Teophrastus, Simeon Sethi, and so on. Each lengthy monograph (typically several pages long) concludes with an Appendix, that is to say, with an addendum of curious facts. In the end, the De historia stirpium is above all a pictorial herbal. It is best appreciated for this visual quality, but in many ways it is also highly precise, except for some easily pardonable errors in plant physiognomy. 343 plant divisions are examined (chapter 343 concerning digitalis and chapter 342 concerning ocimastro are inverted, perhaps due to a binding error). The figures remain the best aspect of the work, despite Fuchs’ good intentions expressed in the dedicatory letter. But, given the times, even this is decidedly of great merit.