Botanical Icons: Critical Practices of Illustration in the Premodern Mediterranean

Andrew Griebeler


University of Chicago Press

A richly illustrated account of how premodern botanical illustrations document evolving knowledge about plants and the ways they were studied in the past.
This book traces the history of botanical illustration in the Mediterranean from antiquity to the early modern period. By examining Greek, Latin, and Arabic botanical inquiry in this early era, Andrew Griebeler shows how diverse and sophisticated modes of plant depiction emerged and ultimately gave rise to practices now recognized as central to modern botanical illustration. The author draws on centuries of remarkable and varied documentation from across Europe and the Mediterranean.
Lavishly illustrated, Botanical Icons marshals ample evidence for a dynamic and critical tradition of botanical inquiry and nature observation in the late antique and medieval Mediterranean. The author reveals that many of the critical practices characteristic of modern botanical illustrations began in premodern manuscript culture. Consequently, he demonstrates that the distinctions between pre- and early modern botanical illustration center more on the advent of print, the expansion of collections and documentation, and the narrowing of the range of accepted forms of illustration than on the invention of critical and observational practices exclusive to modernity.
Griebeler’s emphasis on continuity, intercultural collaboration, and the gradual transformation of Mediterranean traditions of critical botanical illustration persuasively counters previously prevalent narratives of rupture and Western European exceptionalism in the histories of art and science.