The world of antique botanical prints spans many centuries, various techniques of printing and an endless variety of herbs, flowers and fruit. European botanical prints were typically created as a larger work and bound in books or set into portfolios. The purpose of early botanical prints were varied, from “Herbals” which were educational manuals that shared the useful properties of plants to “Florilegia” which were educational picture books of ornamental and exotic plants, many discovered and documented on voyages to the New World.
The Herbal of Apuleius Plantonicus published in Rome around 1481 is a good example of an Herbal, while Emmanuel Sweert’s Floregium (1612) and Basil Besler’s Hortus Eystettenis (1613) are two examples of the Florilegia. Above is a 17th century sunflower by Besler which still appears to be bursting with life, 500 years after it was printed. Maria Sibyella Merian (1647-1717) is a favorite botanical artist of ours because of her bold renderings of plants and the insects they attract. It was also unusual for a woman to travel such great distances let alone be so well known as an artist. Below is a typical example of her work.
The tradition of botanical prints continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries until the camera made this art form all but obsolete. Today, some collectors of botanicals might seek out certain artists or particular specimens of plants while others collect them merely for their beauty.
Like any genre of antiques, some are more rare than others, creating a wide range of prices. But wonderful antique prints can still be found for under a hundred dollars, making antique botanicals the perfect introduction into affordable collecting. We love the notion that one can invest money well while creating a virtual garden on your walls!