Order from Chaos: Linnaeus Disposes

The birth of modern botany

Once Leoniceno’s method was assimilated, botany was deeply transformed: it still remained rooted in the ancient legacy but incorporated personal observation of nature. In such a traditional university as the medieval one of Montpellier, students of medicine did fieldwork as early as the 1540s while the ancient universities of Pisa and Padua created botanical gardens for students to observe plants during the spring term. When Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1500–1577) published the first edition of his Italian translation with commentary of Dioscorides’ treatise in 1540, Italy recovered the pre-eminence it had at the beginning of the Renaissance. This extremely influential work was published in many editions and was translated into several languages.

I. Ornithogalum minus. II. Hyacinthus Orientalis variegatus III. Hyacinthus Orientalis mixtus [Scilla verna Huds., Squill and Hyacinthus orientalis L., Hyacinth], hand-colored engraving by Basil Besler (1561–1629) for Hortus Eystettensis (Eichstätt, 1613 and later eds.).

Hortus Eystettensis was produced by Basil Besler (1561–1629), a Nürnberg apothecary, who in 1613 illustrated the plants growing in the garden of the Bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria. His two volumes would have been examined by Linnaeus in the following century. In its sumptuous presentation of 374 well-designed and decorative engravings of garden plants, Besler’s work was unrivalled until Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora (London, 1807), which included a section on Linnaeus’ sexual system.
Rembert Dodoens, 1517–1585.

Florum, et Coronariarum Odoratarumque Nonnullarum Herbarum Historia, altera editio (Antwerp, 1569).

Right: HI Archives portrait no. 2.

In addition to the great development of the German school of botany and medical botany and in parallel with the rise of the vernacular in Italy, a Flemish school developed in the Low Countries. Its first and probably best representative was the Belgian Rembert Dodoens (1517–1585). In 1554 (the year when Mattioli published the first Latin edition of his work), Dodoens published the first edition of his herbal in Dutch, titled Cruijde Boeck … van den Cruyden, niet alleen Hier te Lande Wassende, maer oock van den Anderen Vremden … (Herbal … dealing with the plants growing not only here in the country, but also in other foreign countries …) (Antwerp, 1554). Later, he translated this work into Latin and expanded it, dealing with, among others, flowering plants, as in the present work.
Cristóbal Acosta, ca.1515–ca.1592.

Tractado de las Drogas, y Medicinas de las Indias Orientales ... (Burgos, 1578).

Below: HI Archives portrait no. 1.

In the progressive expansion of botany during the Renaissance, the flora of the New World represented the largest of a series of concentric circles. The Portuguese Garcia d’Orta (16th century), exiled in India because of the Inquisition, applied Leoniceno’s paradigm to local plants, transferring in that way Dioscorides’ method of description to a new flora that was neither Mediterranean, as in Dioscorides, nor European, as in the first German herbals, but rather that of India — an exotic flora in the context of the Eurocentric culture of that time. Orta himself printed his work in Goa in an atelier that he created. Later on, his treatise was diffused in Europe and translated into different languages, being also assimilated into other works such as that of Acosta, shown here.

Pedanius Dioscorides of Anazarbos, first century.

Acerca de la Materia Medicinal, y de los Venenos Mortiferos, Traduzido ... por el Doctor Andres de Laguna ... (Salamanca, 1566).

Less well-known than Mattioli, the Spanish Andres Laguna (1494–1560) translated Dioscorides’ treatise into Spanish, with commentary. In a first work, however, Laguna published textual corrections to Dioscorides’ text in his Annotationes in Dioscoridem (Notes on Dioscorides) (Lyons, 1554) based on his consultation of ancient Greek manuscripts. In his translation, Laguna did not proceed as Mattioli, who mainly worked as a scholar in his room; instead Laguna traveled throughout Europe, practicing medicine in the field with traditional healers. He thus was able to verify personally the exactness of ancient science and to incorporate into his work data from the field. In this sense, Mattioli can be considered an old-fashioned scholar, while Laguna was more modern. This is one of the multiple re-editions of Laguna’s translation, first printed in 1555, in Antwerp.

Andrew Laguna (1494–1560; HI Archives portrait no. 1)

Two manuscript leaves from the so-called Macer Floridus De Viribus Herbarum, the famous medieval Latin poem on the properties of herbs.

These leaves are believed to have been written in the mid-12th century. The text titled De Viribus Herbarum (On properties of plants) has been traditionally attributed to Odo de Meung (Odo Magdunensis), who is believed to have lived during the first half of the 11th century and was from Meung on the Loire. Recent research has shown, however, that the De Viribus Herbarum was probably written in an earlier version, perhaps during the tenth century in Germany. The text was further expanded, including new data from the translation of Arabic texts into Latin in Salerno from the end of the 11th century onward. If this is the case, this text is good evidence of the continuity of scientific activity in the Middle Ages: its most ancient parts come from a period when there was a revival of interest in botany and a recovery of the classical tradition, while the most recent additions integrate the contribution of the Arabic world.