The beginnings of ecological thought in the Renaissance: an account based on the Libri picturati A. 18–30 collection of water-colours

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  • Archives of natural history 34 (1): 87108. 2007 A. Zemanek, A. Ubrizsy Savoia & B. Zamanek 2007.

    The beginnings of ecological thought in the Renaissance: an account based on the Libri picturati A. 1830 collection of water-coloursALICJA ZEMANEKA, ANDREA UBRIZSY SAVOIAB and BOGDAN ZEMANEKC

    A J. Dyakowska Botanical Museum and History of Botany Research Unit, Botanic Garden, Institute of Botany, Jagiellonian University, 31-501 Cracow, Kopernika 27, Poland (e-mail: zemaneka@ib.uj.edu.pl).B Botanic Garden, Department of Plant Biology, University La Sapienza of Rome, Largo Cristina di Svezia 24,I-00165 Roma, Italy (e-mail: andrea.ubrizsy-savoia@uniroma1.it).C Botanic Garden, Institute of Botany, Jagiellonian University, 31-501 Cracow, Kopernika 27, Poland (e-mail: zemanekb@ib.uj.edu.pl).

    ABSTRACT: During the Renaissance ecological thinking emerged both in printed scientic works and in pictures showing plants against the background of their natural environment. A unique source for the history of plant ecology is the Libri picturati A. 1830 collection of water-colours kept at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow (Poland). This collection consists of 13 volumes of plant pictures, and contains about 1,800 images illustrating more than 1,000 taxa mainly from north-western Europe and the Mediterranean region, but also from Asia and America. Some of these pictures match with woodcuts in various works by famous Flemish botanists, mainly Charles de lcluse (Carolus Clusius) (15261609). Both the illustrations and their short annotations provide a synthetic review of the ecology of the Renaissance period. The paper deals with ecological issues which are found in the collection such as information on the climatic and edaphic requirements of some species, on plants occurring in various habitats and plant communities, plants representing principal growth forms, descriptions of particular adaptations to specic living conditions, for example the halophyte community of sea coasts or the parasitic owering plants, and phenological observations. These trends can also be seen in printed publications of that time, and this collection mirrors them especially closely.

    KEY WORDS: Renaissance botany plant pictures history of ecology Charles de lcluse Carolus Clusius.

    INTRODUCTION

    Knowledge of the relationships between plants and the environment, and of the seasonal changes in plants, has been, since the oldest times, formulated in close relation to agricultural and horticultural practices, but ecology was separated as a distinct branch of biological sciences only in the nineteenth century. The early precursors of ecological thinking were ancient scholars, particularly the founder of botany Theophrastus of Eresus (c. 370285BC), who discussed, for example, the relationships of plants to the climate and soil condition, listed species peculiar to various types of habitat, and showed awareness of plant communities (Morton, 1981: 41; Greene, 1983: 1: 195198). During the Renaissance, when the rediscovery of ancient knowledge was combined with new learning about the ora of Europe, as well as with exploring newly-discovered continents, ecological thinking emerged both in printed scientic treatises as well as in pictures showing plants against the background of their natural environment (Morton, 1981: 125126; Piekieko-Zemanek, 1986; Ubrizsy Savoia, 1998; Zemanek, 1998b: 32; Dobat, 2001: 1617).

  • 88 LIBRI PICTURATI AND THE BEGINNINGS OF ECOLOGICAL THOUGHT

    Figure 1. Mandragora ofcinarum (30/85), one of the most famous magic plants. The annotation shows that its author did not support the old beliefs connected with this herb: Grows in the mountains, abundantly in Gargano Mountains in Apulia; and it is sown and cultivated carefully in the gardens for its false miraculous properties. With us fruit ripens in July and August. Jagiellonian Library, Graphics Department, Cracow, Poland.

  • 89LIBRI PICTURATI AND THE BEGINNINGS OF ECOLOGICAL THOUGHT

    LIBRI PICTURATI

    A unique source for the history of plant ecology is Libri picturati A. 1830, a collection of water-colours made mainly in the Netherlands in the second part of the sixteenth century, kept in the Graphics Department of the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow (Poland).1 More than 1,800 specimens are represented, comprising over a thousand taxa mainly from north-western Europe and the Mediterranean region, but also from Asia and America. The pictures are of such excellent quality that many of them could be used as illustrations of modern books (Figure 1).

    Most of the pictures have annotations, written in different scripts, with the following information: plant names in Greek, Latin, Flemish, French, German and Italian, references to the works of ancient and Renaissance authors, and notes in Latin about localities, plant distribution, ecology, and other subjects (published in Latin2 by Ramn- Laca, 2001).

    The volumes do not contain any indication of the original owners of the collection. Since many pictures match with woodcuts in various works by the famous Renaissance botanist Charles de lcluse (Carolus Clusius) (15261609), some authors have attributed them to Lcluse (Arber, 1988: 229231; Whitehead et alii, 1989). According to recent studies, the set of water-colours was a collaborative work by painters, plant-lovers who sponsored the paintings, and botanists (including Lcluse) who annotated the pictures. Wille (1997), who has carefully examined Lcluses life and correspondence, put forward the idea, supported by Egmont (2005), that a large proportion of the pictures were produced by order of Lcluses friend, Karel van Sint Omaars (Charles de Saint Omer) (15331569), a wealthy plant-lover (his other name was Ranoutre seigneur de Moerkercke, Dranoutre or Reynoutre). In his castle at Moerkercke (now in Belgium), he had a collection of curiosities and also a garden containing useful plants, both of native and foreign origin. The painters included Jacques van Corenhuyse (whose monogram can be found on three pages) and probably Pieter van der Borcht (c. 15351608) working for Christophe Plantin (15141588). Lcluse stayed at the castle in Moerkercke, probably annotated some of the pictures, and used more than one hundred of them as illustrations for his ora of Spain and Portugal, Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Hispanias observatarum historia (Lcluse, 1576), and a later work Rariorum plantarum historia (Lcluse, 1601) (Ramn-Laca, 2001; Egmont, 2005). Some of the pictures were also published by Rembert Dodoens (15171585) in Stirpium historiae pemptades sex (Dodoens, 1583) and Matthias LObel in Kruydtboeck (LObel, 1581). According to Wille (1997), the collection was supplemented and re-arranged after 1595 by Karel van Arenberg (15501616), Prince and Count of Arenberg, an eminent amateur botanist, who augmented the collection with foreign plants which did not occur in the Netherlands. He also probably instructed that the collection should follow the method used by Jacques Dalchamps (15131588), author of Historia generalis plantarum (1586, 1587). Another hypothesis about the origin of the collection, put forward by Swan (1998), attributes the water-colours to Dirck Outgaertsz Cluyt (Theodorus Clutius) (15461598), but this idea is less well documented.

    The water-colours in Libri picturati reect a synthesis of art and science, so vital when they were produced (Zemanek and de Koning, 1998). Thus they are of interest to both art historians and botanists. For a long time the collection was not available to scholars. Rediscovery of the Libri picturati by Whitehead (Whitehead et alii, 1989) initiated studies of these unique pictures. Historians and art historians attempted to discover the date and place of their origin, and the names of the people associated with them (Swan, 1998; Wille, 1997; Egmont, 2005). Botanists are interested in identifying the plants depicted in this painted

  • 90 LIBRI PICTURATI AND THE BEGINNINGS OF ECOLOGICAL THOUGHT

    herbarium. So far only the orchids (Knkele and Lorenz, 1990), the Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) (Baumann, 1998), and heathers (Erica spp.) from Spain (Ramn-Laca and Morales, 2000) have been examined from a taxonomic point of view.

    In 2002 the Libri picturati Project was started, involving interdisciplinary studies by an international team.3 As well as research into the origins and history of the collection, and its role in the history of botanical illustrations, scholars will also investigate the plant groups, the morphology of plants, phytogeography, ecology, useful plants, and connections between the Libri picturati and lcluses garden in Leiden. It is intended to produce an annotated facsimile which will illustrate the combination of art and science, so characteristic of the Renaissance period.

    ECOLOGICAL INFORMATION IN LIBRI PICTURATI A. 1830

    Pictures of plantsIn a few cases we have typical ecological pictures showing species from the same habitat on one page. However, this set of realistic water-colours, illustrating various growth forms and diverse ecological adaptations to living conditions, contains a voluminous ecological content even though contemporary authors were not aware of most of these adaptations. Almost all plants are painted at the owering stage, with fruits quite often added, sometimes also seeds, which provide quite a rich set of phenological data.

    AnnotationsFor more than half of the species ecological data were included, such as habitats, time of owering and fruit-bearing, as well as possible cultivation in gardens, and requirements pertaining to soil, light or similar. In some cases more general observations are provided.

    The most extensive written information is for species from north-western Europe, particularly Belgium and the Netherlands, and the detailed descriptions of habitats and the geographical names