Magazine article The New Yorker

Encyclopedia Botanica

Magazine article The New Yorker

Encyclopedia Botanica

Article excerpt

Not for nothing is herbology characterized as a branch of traditional medicine. In MEDIEVAL HERBALS (Toronto), Minta Collins shows that treatises on the medical uses of plants date back to the work of the Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century A.D. Dioscorides' teachings formed the basis of Western herbal writings for a millennium and a half, while the illustrations grew from rudimentary diagrams to the sophisticated depictions in late-medieval codices, in which varieties of plants are clearly--and beautifully--visible.

Botanical verisimilitude reached new heights in the Renaissance. Claudia Swan points out that in Albrecht Durer's watercolor "The Large Piece of Turf" not only are all the plants readily identifiable but knowledegable observers can also identify the month as May. In THE CLUTIUS BOTANICAL WATERCOLORS (Abrams), Swan makes selections from some eighteen hundred botanical watercolors collected by the wealthy sixteenth-century Dutch pharmacist Theodorus Clutius. …

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