Accuracy and Detail in Botanical Art

Characteristic of botanical art is the realistic rendering of plants by accurately depicting plant structures and their details. In the late 1600s and into the 1700s, technical improvements in microscopes enabled botanical artists and scientists studying plants to magnify and visualize plant morphology more clearly. During this time all science, including the science of botany, was in its early stages of development. The Botanical Art form also developed as artists began working more closely with botanists, illustrating, drawing, and painting the plants being studied and described.

The most notable botanical artist during this time was Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708–1770) who for a time worked with Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist known for developing the binomial system of naming plants and animals. Under Linnaeus’s instruction, Ehret began to learn and understand plant morphology in more depth. His artistic rendering and inclusion of plant details alongside the main drawing has continued to influence botanical artists up to the present day and is a major contribution to the development of Botanical Art.

Illustrations in scientific publications best demonstrate the working relationship of the botanical artist and the scientist. Usually done in pen and ink, they provide the viewer with an easily understandable visual description of what the scientist has written in the text.

In this section of the exhibit, examples of illustrations from the late 1800s and early 1900s show the influence of Ehret with the inclusion of enlargements of plant structures to reveal their finer details.

In Sections V and VI of the exhibit are many examples of illustrations that have appeared in recent publications and illustrations that will be used in future publications that continue this tradition of illustrating the details of plant structures alongside the larger depiction of the plant's overall structure.

credits for supplemental images