Hortus Eystettensis. Sive Diligens et accvrata omnium Plantarum, Florvm, Stirpium, ex variis orbis terræ partibvs, singvlari stvdio collectarvm, qvæ in celeberrimis viridariis arcem episcopalem ibidem cingentibvs, olim conspiciebantvr delineatio et adiscd
Farmaceutica - Erbari
Portrayed in the frontispiece of the book with a plant in hand, perhaps basil but certainly a labiate, Besler dedicated much energy to describing the plants of the gardens that Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, archbishop of the site from 1595 to 1612 and a passionate botanist, had ordered constructed to adorn his palace. The Hortus Eyttenensis (as the work was originally called) appeared however in1612, one year after the death of bishop Konrad, who did not have the pleasure of seeing it completed. Besler had begun working on it in fact at the beginning of the new century. Two complementary elements distinguish this work: the plates, usually with three images, but often with more, and the Latin inscriptions. The former, in terms of quality, richness of detail, subtleties, vividness of color and luster, prevail over the latter. Aspects of the Latin inscriptions do, however, anticipate some remarkable developments for the beginning of the 17th century, not least of which is the recurrent and certainly not casual use of the binomial denomination that will be made official by Linnaeus much later and will become the methodological norm only at the end of the 18th century. But Besler’s work goes further still, for the text contains an embryonic system of classification based on the biological rhythms of plants according to the seasons. Not by chance, in fact, is the modern French version of the herbal called Herbier des quatres saisons, which we find replicated in the Italian version published by Garzanti (1998, L’erbario delle quattro stagioni). The 367 plates, made from copper engravings, were executed by more than one artist, some bearing the artist’s signature and others his initials. This Herbal stands above its contemporaries for the number and especially for the quality of its images, which are always executed with great care and cover all of the 660 botanical species and over 400 horticultural varieties. The presence of the latter should not surprise us since herbals had by now acquired a naturalistic, and even ornamental value, overshadowing the therapeutic uses emphasized by Medieval and Renaissance herbals. Nonetheless, our herbal still includes 400 species that can be considered to be medicinal and the ambitious title of this anthology is an accurate one. Besler may have been a botanist and a pharmacist, but he was above all an artist of nature, with colors and shapes that come to life on paper, a skillful transposer of the real into the virtual.