Abstract Detail

Botanical History

Cook, Alexandra [1].

Revisiting Renaissance botanical literature in the eighteenth century: To illustrate or not to illustrate--that is the question.

Science is normally understood to be cumulative—that is to say, the current state of knowledge is considered the most advanced and accurate. It is therefore considered counter-intuitive to consult scientific works from previous eras. The eighteenth century saw the emergence of important new paradigms of botanical classification and nomenclature, spearheaded by Carous Linnaeus, Michel Adanson and the Jussieus, among others. However, in botany it was long part of the format of learned treatises to reference the names assigned to plant species by earlier authors. This practice created a chain of reference over centuries, in particular from the Renaissance (which I take to be the sixteenth century up to the publication of Caspar Bauhin’s Pinax in 1623) up to the publication of Linnaeus’s treatises. This meant that Linnaeus, for example, provided a series of historical references with each entry of Species plantarum (1753). Yet this was merely the textual way of tracing a plant’s name back to its first published version. With the establishment of Species as the common point of reference, the need to trace back names assigned by earlier authors—especially Caspar Bauin—was coming to an end. The philosopher and botanist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) pointed to another, extremely compelling reason for botanists of his time to access Renaissance works: their rich illustrations. Conversant with the major Renaissance authors—Dodoens, Clusius, Gerard, Camerarius, Cordus and Gessner, et al.—Rousseau proclaimed the uselessness of the illustration-deprived works of Linnaeus and many other contemporary botanists. For Rousseau, as a novice, images were a necessity and it was the Renaissance herbals, many drawing on the famous illustrations of Dodoens’ works, that provided a way to visualize the more common plants, especially those prized in medicine. Dodoens’ illustrations, in particular, and their legacy for botanical image-making have been the subject of important recent research (Chen 2020) upon which this paper will draw. The paper will look in detail at Rousseau’s hitherto undocumented excursion into Renaissance botany, and why this return to an earlier literature remains of interest to us today.

Related Links:
Chen 2020
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Botany: The Salutary Science, chapter 7

1 - University of Hong Kong, Philosophy, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, 00000, Hong Kong

Renaissance herbals
Rembertus Dodoens
John Gerard
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Botanical images.

Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Number: BH1005
Abstract ID:1050
Candidate for Awards:None

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