Each Peach, Pear, Plum . .

By Rackham, Oliver | The Spectator, May 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

Each Peach, Pear, Plum . .


Rackham, Oliver, The Spectator


The Tradescants' Orchard:

The Mystery of a SeventeenthCentury Painted Fruit Book by Barrie Juniper and Hanneke Grootenboer Bodleian Library, £30, pp. 120, ISBN 9781851242771 Elias Ashmole, fortune-hunter, scholar and collector, bequeathed his coins, curiosities and books in 1692 to form the nucleus of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The books were later taken over by the Bodleian Library. One of them is called The Tradescants' Orchard, from a tenuous association with John Tradescant I, Keeper of Gardens, Vines and Silkworms to King Charles I, and his nurseryman son John II. It is edited by the historian of the world's apples and his Oxford colleague in art history.

The book consists of 64 pen-and-watercolour pictures of different varieties of plums and peaches and a few other fruits in a vivid and charmingly primitivist style - enlivened by colourful sketches of imaginary snails, spiders, caterpillars, butterflies, frogs and birds, anticipating Beatrix Potter.

A strawberry and a gooseberry by different hands were added; someone hastily labelled the pictures with variety names and fruiting dates; a bookbinder chopped off the edges of the sheets and bound them into a volume; Ashmole wrote an index; his bookbinder made a new binding, held shut with brass clasps in a long-disused medieval style.

As loose sheets they were pawed over by many grubby fingers, and after the second binding the book was used until it began to Was he a born soldier of natural courage, or the bumptious, medal-hunting self-advertiser his fellow subalterns suspected? …

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