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Botanical Illustration

Scientific and artistic representations of plants in different media; books of botanical illustrations including albums, herbals, floras, and florilegia​

Rare Books Online Exhibits Publications External Resources Related Content

Botanical illustration was an important form of early modern artistic production, both as an aid to plant identification and a response to the natural world. Books that featured representations of plants alongside their descriptions were a source of valuable scientific information in the context of pre-Linnaean taxonomy, which could be used in the library or in the field.

The earliest Renaissance herbals generally derived from ancient medical treatises—such as the pocketsize reference volume by Leonhard Fuchs—but the range of these publications expanded during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to include descriptions of regional flora or catalogs of plants in botanical and pleasure gardens. Given their rarity and cost, some of these books could become prestigious objects of collecting, as exemplified by the exquisite set of flower miniatures attributed to Jacques le Moyne de Morgues or the monumental Hortus Eystettensis by the Nuremberg apothecary Basilius Besler. ​

Often excluded from working in more prestigious genres, women in particular practiced the art of botanical illustration, as in the case of the celebrated miniaturist Giovanna Garzoni or the painter and traveler Maria Sibylla Merian; this tradition was continued into the twentieth century by Margaret Mee with her depictions of Brazilian flora. During the Victorian era, albums of flower paintings also became a fashionable pastime for female amateurs. In addition to holdings from Europe and the Americas, Dumbarton Oaks collection includes examples from East and Southeast Asia, such as the collection of painting of fruits from the Malay Archipelago, probably executed in the early decades of the nineteenth century by Chinese artists and associated with the British colonial official William Farquhar.


Searching for Materials in HOLLIS​

In addition to select digitized titles, the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection holds numerous materials related to botanical illustration. To quickly locate items in HOLLIS, use the “Advanced Search” feature to specify material subject, language, date range, or other criteria. Relevant subjects include the following:

Botany -- Pictorial works​

Botanical illustration

Herbals -- Early works to 1800​

Natural history illustration​



Digitized Rare Books

Online Exhibits

Explore highlights from the collection related to botanical illustration below, or view all online exhibits.


Discover featured titles related to botanical illustration below, or search all titles from Dumbarton Oaks Publications.

External Resources​

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open-access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. As part of a global “biodiversity community,” BHL’s worldwide consortium of natural history and botanical libraries works to digitize and make freely available the natural history literature held in their collections.​

The Medical Heritage Library, Inc., is a collaborative digitization and discovery organization committed to providing open-access resources in the history of healthcare and the health sciences.​

The Digital Library del Real Jardin Botanico CSIC (Madrid)​ is an online botanical information resource that provides free and open access to more than 7,500 publications, primarily drawn from the collection of the Library of the Royal Botanical Garden.​

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) lists member Plant Libraries, many of which have made portions of their collections available online.

In addition to providing access to their own digitized monographs, plant catalogs, and periodicals, the German Horticultural Library has compiled extensive bibliographies of digitized garden literature from other institutions.

The aim of the Hortus Database at the Palace of Versailles Center for Research is to gather and compare the numerous lists of plants existing in European archives, to match the names cited in the sources with the scientific names of these plants and to allow researchers to consult these sources.

The Botanical Illustrations exhibit on Harvard Digital Collections​ provides free, public access to objects digitized from the Botany Libraries. The original works of art in this collection of botanical illustrations date from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s and include works by Harvard botanists, professional artists, “amateur” women who studied plants, and others.​

JSTOR’s Global Plants is the world's largest database of digitized plant specimens. In addition to the specimens contributed by partner herbaria, Global Plants also features reference works and primary sources, such as collectors’ correspondence and diaries, illustrations, and photographs.


Related Collection Strengths

Learn more about other collection strengths that may contain materials of interest to this research topic, or view all collection strengths.


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