Basilius Besler

Size: ~17 x 21 inches - Original Hand Colored Copperplate Engravings

These beautiful stipple engravings have been selected from a German work entitled Hortus Eystettensis (Garden at Eichstätt), published in Eichstätt in 1613.

The emphasis in botanicals of previous centuries had been on medicinal and culinary herbs, and these had usually been depicted in a crude manner. The images were often inadequate for identification, and had little claim to being aesthetic. The Hortus Eystettensis changed botanical art overnight. The plates were of garden flowers, herbs and vegetables, exotic plants such as castor-oil and arum lilies. These were depicted near life-size, producing rich detail. The layout was artistically pleasing and quite modern in concept, with the hand-colouring adding greatly to the final effect. The work was first published in 1613 and consisted of 367 copper engravings, with an average of three plants per page, so that a total of 1086 species were depicted. The first edition printed 300 copies, which took four years to sell. The book was printed on large sheets measuring 57 x 46 cm. Two versions were produced, cheap black and white for use as a reference book, and a luxury version without text, printed on quality paper and lavishly hand-coloured. The luxury version sold for an exorbitant 50 florins, while the plain, uncoloured copies went for 35 florins each. Besler could finally purchase a comfortable home in a fashionable part of Nurnberg at a price of 2 500 florins – five coloured copies' worth of ‘Hortus Eystettensis'.

The work generally reflected the four seasons, showing first the flowering and then the fruiting stages. "Winter" was sparsely represented with a mere 7 plates. "Spring" was a season of abundance with 134 plates illustrating 454 plants and "Summer" in full swing showed 505 plants on 184 plates. "Autumn" closed off the work with 42 plates and 98 species. The modern French version of the herbal is known as the Herbier des quatres saisons, repeated in the 1998 Italian version L'erbario delle quattro stagioni.

Descriptions of the plants were in Latin and showed remarkable anticipation of the binomial system, in that the captions often consisted of the first two or three words of the description. Besler's portrait appears on the frontispiece holding a sprig of greenery, thought to be basil. The work was published twice more in Nuremberg in 1640 and 1713, using the same plates, plates which were destroyed by the Royal Mint of Munich in 1817.
Basilius Besler (1591-1629) was a pharmacist in Nuremberg. During the rule of bishop Johann Conrad von Gemmingen (approx. 1561-1612) he was in charge of the bishop's gardens in Eichstätt. In 1586 Besler took over the pharmacy at the Nuremberg hay market. He set up his own botanical gardens and a comprehensive collection of natural history specimens and was soon known as a botanist and collector of natural history specimens. He described his then famous natural history showcase in two books. In 1597 the bishop of Eichstätt instructed him to create a botanical garden on the premises of Willibaldsburg Castle. In 1609 Basilius Besler wrote a description of this garden. The precious work he then produced, his famous plant atlas "Hortus Eystettensis", was published in 1613 by Basilius Besler and Ludwig Jungermann and printed in large format, with the bishop financing it.

The work contains 1086 illustrations of plants from 367 copperplate engravings, most of which were depicted in their natural size. The copperplates were engraved by W. Kilian, R. Custos, Fr. von Hulsen and others according to drawings by Basilius Besler . The classification in the encyclopedia of plants was carried out on the basis of the plants' seasonal appearance from spring, summer and autumn to winter. Basilius Besler was no scientist and therefore limited himself to indicating where information about each plant could be found in expert literature (Camerarius, Clusius, Cauhin, Fuchs, Tabernaemontanus, Lobelius etc.) and giving the plants' Latin and old German names.

The work depicts 349 German, 209 southern- and southeastern European, 63 Asian, 9 African and 23 American species. "Hortus Eystettensis" was first published in a 300 piece edition and in 1613 was the most modern book on plants of its time. Basilius Besler reflected the status quo before the introduction of overseas flora to Germany. C. Plumier honored Besler posthumously by naming a climbing bush Beseleria.

Hortus Eystettensis
Roses
Date: 1613
Price: Sold
Print Code: Bobesl001

Hortus Eystettensis
Roses
Date: 1613
Price: Sold
Print Code: Bobesl002

Hortus Eystettensis
Lily & Iris
Date: 1613
Price: On Request
Print Code: Bobesl003

Hortus Eystettensis
Martagon Lily
Date: 1613
Price: On Request
Print Code: Bobesl004

Hortus Eystettensis
Hyacinth, Palma Christi
Date: 1613
Price: On Request
Print Code: Bobesl005

Hortus Eystettensis
Hyacinth, Ornithogalum
Date: 1613
Price: On Request
Print Code: Bobesl006