Botanical art prints are representative of timeless design. Here’s a brief history of botanical art, and the place it has in the contemporary home.
I love botanical art. I am especially drawn to the drawings from the 1700s and 1800s. The fine, detailed drawings, the gentle water colors, the accurate depiction of all phases of growth (seed, roots, stalk, leaves, flowers, fruit), and the Latin names in fancy cursive give me a deep appreciation for plants and art.
My Pinterest board of botanical art is the busiest one I’ve got. There are many others, too, I discovered, and I have come across some beautiful online collections through them.
Botanical art is getting popular, because there is a growing interest in nature. People are beginning to see how important plants are in the ecosystems of the world. Plants clean the air, feed us, and provide a sense of well-being. No wonder we love them!
History of botanical art
Plants are rarely found in prehistoric art, which mainly consists of people and animals. When the medicinal properties of plants were discovered, there was no taxonomic classification of plants, so there needed to be an accurate record of plant descriptions. Herbal remedies could be deadly if the wrong plant was harvested and administered to a patient.
The first herbal book was Pedanius Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica. As a physician, Dioscorides collected medicinal herbs in his travels, noting everything he could about the plants’ appearances, folklore, and habitats. He was very thorough in his research of each plant’s medicinal properties, testing them on himself. The book, published in 70 AD, contained all his collected details, including his illustrations.
The middle ages
In 512 AD, a Byzantine artist illustrated De Materia Medica for Juliana Anicia, the daughter of Emperor Anicius Olybrius. This has been the foremost herbal and botanical reference in history. It was in use for over two thousand years, and especially through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
“The Age of Exploration”
During the 16-18th centuries, the Age of Exploration, botanical illustration was important to record the plants that were being collected and brought home by explorers. The years from 1750-1850 are known as The Golden Age of Botanical Art.
At the same time, gardening was becoming popular, and illustrations were necessary for magazines, catalogues, and field guides, which were now made possible with the invention of the printing press.
More representational in the 20th century
By the early 20th century, botanical art became more representational and less scientific. Paintings were realistic and detailed, but they served a different purpose with the advent of nomenclature. However, professional botanical illustrators still record plant collections for herbariums and botanic gardens today.
Collecting botanical art
A good place to start shopping for botanical art is the American Society of Botanical Artists. Their members have online galleries, and you can locate artists and other botanical art societies in your area and around the world.
You don’t need to be an art collector. Know what you like and what media you prefer. Maybe there is a specific artist whose work you enjoy. Go to exhibitions and openings when possible. ASBA suggests looking at original art whenever possible. As we all know, online images vary greatly from the originals.
The Botanical Artists of Canada suggests collecting the work of illustrators who have contributed to Kew Magazine from The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London. Kew Gardens has the largest plant collection in the world, and the magazine has been published for about 200 years. The botanical art collection is just as impressive – 200,000 pieces spanning the last three centuries.
Another good source would be antique stores, especially those dealing in maps and prints. I bought a print of Alum Root at a thrift store. It was not antique, but it was scientifically accurate.
If you need some inspiration, the Biodiversity Heritage Library has a stunning collection of botanical art from the Golden Age.
Contemporary botanical art is no less desirable than antiques for decorating your home. Artists today use a variety of materials to create work that is part science and part interpretation. They are also recording today’s species, a vital project as the climate changes. Plants will adapt to the changes and may become endangered or extinct.
Some universities have large collections. Your local or regional botanic garden is another good source for botanical art.
If you travel, collect botanical art from wherever you go. There are botanical artist organizations in many countries and in the various regions of North America. Learn about native flora around the world through local art. (That’s what I would do!)
Arranging your art
Botanical art brings nature into your house and connects you to the outdoors. I like a variety of prints in simple, identical frames. The print should be the main focus. Mismatched frames take away from the subject matter, and the scene becomes busy and chaotic.
Prints can be placed just about anywhere in the home. Some drawings, such as roses, are more feminine and would look good in a bedroom or a light and airy room. Trees, for instance, are heavier and feel more masculine, fitting into a den or dining area. A collection of prints can make an entryway interesting.
One or two large prints can be a focal point over a living room couch or a headboard. Rooms should be simple to set off the artwork.
Whether you have antique or contemporary paintings, you will incorporate timeless design into your home. The need for botanical prints has lasted for centuries. They are still in demand and continue to be produced. They fit in with any décor from conservative to cottage style. Even if you decorate according to the latest trends, your botanical art collection will be perennial.