Session Title

Imagery in Medieval Herbals

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Special Session

Organizer Name

Dominic Olariu

Organizer Affiliation

Kunstgeschichtliches Institut, Philipps-Univ. Marburg

Presider Name

Dominic Olariu

Paper Title 1

Shifting Production Paradigms in the Illustration of Herbals between Antiquity and Middle Ages

Presenter 1 Name

Andrew Griebeler

Presenter 1 Affiliation

Univ. of California-Berkeley

Paper Title 2

Revealed in It and Yet Concealed in It: Divine Presence and Visual Rhetoric of the Early Modern Herbal

Presenter 2 Name

Andrea Meyer Ludowisy

Presenter 2 Affiliation

Univ. of London

Paper Title 3

Illustrating Gart der Gesundheit of 1485

Presenter 3 Name

Mayumi Ikeda

Presenter 3 Affiliation

Keio Univ.

Start Date

17-5-2015 10:30 AM

Session Location

Fetzer 1060

Description

Imagery in Medieval Herbals

This session attempts to provide a survey on the change and function of illustrations in medieval herbals. Medieval herbals have attracted interesting investigations in the last decades, but are a still scarcely analyzed topic. However, investigations focused on printed herbals produced at the end of the 15th century and onwards. The interesting herbals catalogue by Minta Collins Medieval Herbals: The Illustrative Traditions should be understood as an excellent departing point for further examinations. Many and new efforts have been made for the digitization of herbals thus allowing a better understanding of the worldwide corpus of herbal imagery.

Herbal images must be perceived as symptoms of new visualizing methods of botanic knowledge, situated within a wider context of “scientific” preoccupations. “Natural science” may not be the right term to designate the domain of these activities, as research of the history of sciences has repeatedly pointed out over the last decades. The disciplines of natural sciences do crystallize from the 16th century onwards. However, the purpose of exchanging common data inside a scholar community of specialists as well as the effort of data systemizing become obvious as early as the 15th century. In the transitional period from medieval manuscripts to printed books herbals employ visualizing techniques used before in older herbal imagery: for instance choosing details in order to represent the whole plant, emphasizing the profile and frontal view, organizing the herb around a central axis. Simultaneously, concerns of depicting recognizable features and lifelikeness become increasingly manifest. Several methods are employed in order to ensure proximity to the actual plants: copying pictures supposed to represent the reality, dressing sketches in front of the plant, distancing oneself from plants of alchemistic or legendary traditions, including nature prints. These aspects raise questions concerning the capacity of artists: Was an artist really capable of “objectively” depicting a herb? Therefore it is a productive research method to compare herbals produced in the period after Antiquity and before the New Modern Period.

In later medieval times, naturalistic paintings in herbals as well as aesthetically motivated efforts stress the involvement of the herbals’ producers with nature studies and theories on realistic painting. Hence a mutual influence between the pictures inside herbals and plant pictures belonging to the artistic domain outside plant books is plausible. Situated at the threshold of nature studies, like the aquarelles produced in Dürer’s sphere of influence, and next to herbal imagery of the Italian Middle Ages, the plant pictures in herbals show diverse ways of encompassing reality, facts and art. Older herbal imagery is more closely linked to traditional schemes of representation. However not much is known on how these herbals have been used and if the employed imagery did help the readers in identifying the plants.

In addition, herbal imagery is part of the medical world of the Middle Ages, since herbals were intended to list the curative effects of the mentioned plants. The pictures must therefore be understood as being related to pharmacological and medical practices. Although the focus of the session is on the period of the later Middle Ages, it aims to bring together scholars specialized on diverse time periods and examining herbal imagery from perspectives of diverse disciplines.

Dominic Olariu

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May 17th, 10:30 AM

Imagery in Medieval Herbals

Fetzer 1060

Imagery in Medieval Herbals

This session attempts to provide a survey on the change and function of illustrations in medieval herbals. Medieval herbals have attracted interesting investigations in the last decades, but are a still scarcely analyzed topic. However, investigations focused on printed herbals produced at the end of the 15th century and onwards. The interesting herbals catalogue by Minta Collins Medieval Herbals: The Illustrative Traditions should be understood as an excellent departing point for further examinations. Many and new efforts have been made for the digitization of herbals thus allowing a better understanding of the worldwide corpus of herbal imagery.

Herbal images must be perceived as symptoms of new visualizing methods of botanic knowledge, situated within a wider context of “scientific” preoccupations. “Natural science” may not be the right term to designate the domain of these activities, as research of the history of sciences has repeatedly pointed out over the last decades. The disciplines of natural sciences do crystallize from the 16th century onwards. However, the purpose of exchanging common data inside a scholar community of specialists as well as the effort of data systemizing become obvious as early as the 15th century. In the transitional period from medieval manuscripts to printed books herbals employ visualizing techniques used before in older herbal imagery: for instance choosing details in order to represent the whole plant, emphasizing the profile and frontal view, organizing the herb around a central axis. Simultaneously, concerns of depicting recognizable features and lifelikeness become increasingly manifest. Several methods are employed in order to ensure proximity to the actual plants: copying pictures supposed to represent the reality, dressing sketches in front of the plant, distancing oneself from plants of alchemistic or legendary traditions, including nature prints. These aspects raise questions concerning the capacity of artists: Was an artist really capable of “objectively” depicting a herb? Therefore it is a productive research method to compare herbals produced in the period after Antiquity and before the New Modern Period.

In later medieval times, naturalistic paintings in herbals as well as aesthetically motivated efforts stress the involvement of the herbals’ producers with nature studies and theories on realistic painting. Hence a mutual influence between the pictures inside herbals and plant pictures belonging to the artistic domain outside plant books is plausible. Situated at the threshold of nature studies, like the aquarelles produced in Dürer’s sphere of influence, and next to herbal imagery of the Italian Middle Ages, the plant pictures in herbals show diverse ways of encompassing reality, facts and art. Older herbal imagery is more closely linked to traditional schemes of representation. However not much is known on how these herbals have been used and if the employed imagery did help the readers in identifying the plants.

In addition, herbal imagery is part of the medical world of the Middle Ages, since herbals were intended to list the curative effects of the mentioned plants. The pictures must therefore be understood as being related to pharmacological and medical practices. Although the focus of the session is on the period of the later Middle Ages, it aims to bring together scholars specialized on diverse time periods and examining herbal imagery from perspectives of diverse disciplines.

Dominic Olariu