There is a book about fruit that is surrounded by mystery and intrigue.
Is it a book?
Is it a catalog?
Is it a teaching tool about fruit trees?
The Tradescants’ Orchard is more catalog than book and, according to evidence of how often each painting has been handled, was also a teaching tool, according to authors Barrie Juniper and Hanneke Grootenboer.
Juniper and Grootenboer, together with the Bodleian Library, have published The Tradescants’ Orchard: The Mystery of a Seventeenth-Century Painted Fruit Book — a fascinating look at plantsman John Tradescant the elder, his son John Tradescant and their contributions to horticulture and the development of fruit orchards in 17th century Europe.
Originally called A Book of Fruit Trees with their Fruits (Juniper & Grootenboer, 2013), a photograph of this 400-year old manuscript is included in their book.
You are most likely already familiar with the Tradescants. The Spiderwort plants bear their family name (Tradescantia). Does this houseplant look familiar?
The Tradescant father and son team were responsible for introducing and raising many familiar garden plants (Juniper & Grootenboer, 2013). John Tradescant the elder was a sought-after plantsman in elite circles, operated a large nursery and, because of his extensive traveling, built an impressive cabinet of curiosities (Juniper & Grootenboer, 2013). When he died in 1638, John Tradescant the younger took over the family business and eventually became acquainted with Elias Ashmole.
This is where the story of the colorful manuscript containing 66 paintings of fruit and imaginary arthropods, frogs, birds, snails, a lizard and a squirrel gets very interesting.
Thought to be created somewhere around the 1620s or 1630s, The Tradescants’ Orchard was published when interest in growing fruit and when creating horticultural information for the public became popular (Juniper & Grootenboer, 2013).
Who commissioned the manuscript?
How did it end up at the Ashmole Museum?
What is unique about the paintings?
Much is explained in the forty-one pages of text leading up to Juniper & Grootenboer’s reproduction of The Tradescants’ Orchard. Their book is yet another wonderful chapter about the history of botanical art.
Juniper, Barrie and Hanneke Grootenboer. 2013. The Tradescants’ Orchard: The Mystery of a Seventeenth-Century Painted Fruit Book. Oxford: Bodleian Library.
This title is available as a Special Order item at ArtPlantae Books