B A S I L I U S B E S L E R
Nuremburg pharmacist and botanist, Basilius Besler (1561 – 1629) is know for one of the most beautiful and renowned botanical works ever producued, the Hortus Eystettensis (Garden at Eichstätt). With its amazing powerful, graphic qualities and the aesthetic beauty of the thick hand made sheets, as well as the expansive folio sized scale it is one of the best loved flower books of all time. Hortus Eystettensis truly changed the course of botanical art, becoming the most modern work on plants of its time and setting the standard for future flower books.
Besler was the curator of the garden surrounding Willibaldsburg, the palace of Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, prince bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria. The bishop, an enthusiastic and noted botanist in his own right, took pride in the fact that his was the only important European botanical garden outside of Italy. Started in 1596 by Besler’s colleague, Joachim Camerarius the Younger, a physician and botanist, Besler took over its supervision upon Camerarius’ death, moving his remaining specimens to Eichstätt. He was then commissioned by the bishop to create a codex of the plants in the collection. The project took sixteen years to complete, with Besler finishing the work in 1613, just after the bishop’s death in 1612.
Enlisting the help of artists, draftsmen, engravers and other botanists, Hortus Eystettensis was the first botanical collection to emphasize herbs and plants from an aesthetic vantage point. Unlike its predecessors, which awkwardly recreated their subjects from a purely scientific perspective, the images in Hortus Eystettensis celebrated the ornamental beauty and diversity of the garden, including such as castor-oil plants, arum lilies and even chile peppers.
Hortus Eystettensis consisted of 367 copper engravings based on Besler’s original drawings, with an average of three images per page. In total, more than 1000 species were included. The work also had the distinction of reflecting the plants during all four seasons in bloom order showing their stages from flowering to fruiting. Beginning with the sparsely represented “Winter,” which carried a mere 7 plates, the work went on to “Spring,” with an abundant 134 plates and 454 plants; “Summer,” with 184 plates and 505 plants; and finally “Autumn,” which concluded the work with 42 plates and 98 plants depicted. Sadly, the copper plates created for Hortus Eystettensis were destroyed by the Royal Mint of Munich in 1817.