Note: The following was first published in the June 2007 issue of Artists’ Botany. This publication was ArtPlantae’s original newsletter and the predecessor of this educational site. It was published from February 2005 – October 2007. Selected articles from Artists’ Botany will be reprinted here and added to our searchable resource.
Draughtsmen, Botanists and Nature: The Construction of Eighteenth-Century Botanical Illustrations is a dissertation-turned-book written by Kärin Nickelsen of the University of Bern, Switzerland. It is a fascinating look into the time, effort, patience and planning that went into the creation of botanical illustrations between 1700 and 1830. Nickelsen discusses observable links between illustrations of this time period and provides information about Georg Dionysius Ehret, Carl Linneaus and other influential individuals of the 18th century.
Nickelsen studied 137 scientific plant drawings representing ten species of plants in order to decipher the actual process of how plant images were produced and who produced them. She offers insight into how botanists communicated with their draughtsmen and how botanists critiqued the plant drawings that were created for them. Nickelsen describes the painstakingly detailed and tedious work completed by the engravers and the colorists who added color to printed drawings. She also offers insight into the stressful lives of 18th-century publishers and project managers and their handling of botanists, authors, draughtsmen, engravers and the private individuals who funded botanical works such as Christoph Jacob Trew’s Plantae Selectae (1750-73).
During the course of her research, Nickelsen determined that 18th century illustrations were not created as exact copies of nature. Instead, they were often derived works originating from the existing illustrations of botanists and draughtsmen whose work had already been accepted by the scientific community. It appears that draughtsmen copied elements from existing illustrations and incorporated them into their own work. Nickelsen goes to great detail to describe this practice by pointing out “copying links” in the plant drawings that were the focus of her research.
Draughtsmen is truly an academic read complete with detailed footnotes, a Materials & Methods section, and a Reference section brimming with 231 references spanning three centuries. Get out your pencil. You will be jotting down notes in the margin of almost every page of this book.
Nickelsen, Kärin. 2006. Draughtsmen, Botanists and Nature: The Construction of Eighteenth-Century Botanical Illustrations. Archimedes – New Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. Volume 15. Springer.
View Illustrations Online
The images that were the focus of Nickelsen’s research can be viewed online. Click here to learn more about a special online presentation of this project. This online presentation is titled The Dynamics of Botanical Illustrations of the 18th-Century by Kärin Nickelsen and GerdGraßhoff. Also available on this site is Nickelsen’s Ph.D. dissertation (in German), as well as selected references that were consulted for this project.
(Update 12/6/13: These links are no longer valid)
Draughtsmen Contents in Review
- General Overview of Project
- The Making of Botanical Illustrations
- The Content of Botanical Illustrations
- The Role of Botanical Illustrations
- The Language of Botanical Illustrations
- Links with Tradition (learn how draughtsmen copied elements from previous works)
- The Construction of Botanical Illustrations
Draughtsmen, Botanists and Nature can be purchased at Springer Link in its entirety or as individual chapters.
Also view this article online at ResearchGate:
Nickelsen, Karin. 2006. Draughtsmen, botanists and nature: Constructing eighteenth-century botanical illustrations. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. 37(1):1-25.