Botanical Art has an intrinsic relationship with botany, the tradition of Botanical art, with its meticulous detail has long been practiced by artists and novices the world over. For many botanical artists, the illustration goes beyond its scientific requirements, becoming something of a glorious fusing between the scientific study of nature and art.

The greatest flower artists have been those who have found beauty in truth; who have understood plants scientifically, but who have yet seen and described them with the eye and the hand of the artist. [1]


Botanical Art – antiquity to voguish

Prior to Christianity plants were considered gifts of the Gods by early peoples, thus were primarily associated with ritual and religion. The earliest portrayals of plants and trees were found in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Dating back to 5000BC, these civilisations were highly developed agricultural societies and included images of plants and other motifs on the walls of their temples and tombs.


  • 400 BC

    Classical Era

    The classical era in Greece, Asia Minor and Babylon first known herbals describing the medicinal properties of plants, with drawings and descriptions.

    • Floral art was used as decoration. In Greek and Roman Art, figures of plants and trees were often used to adorn ceramics, coins frescoes, and mosaics.
  • 600 AD

    Juliana Anicia Codex of Dioscorides

    The six century Juliana Anicia Codex of Dioscorides, remained the standard manuscript for pharmaceutical and herbal writing for almost a thousand years; it demonstrates the medicinal and healing properties of plants with the beginnings of botanical art. Although  drawings of herbs were used in China around 4500, their knowledge did not spread to the west.  

  • 500 – 1500

    The Dark Ages

    Fall of the Roman Empire – beginning of the Renaissance.

    • Medieval Europe – illuminated manuscripts. Inspiration taken from flowers, vines, tendrils and leaves; appeared in the margins of the manuscripts and adorned singular text.  Medieval herbalism manuscripts- referred to particular plants for maintaining health and treating illness. 
  • 1400

    Virgin of the Rocks

    Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks (c.1483-86) is full of botanically accurate flowers, demonstrating the interest in accuracy of plants as they became more widely studied.

  • 1450

    The Printing Press

    The invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in the mid 1400s combined to bring out a new form of botanical art, as medical and dietary text began to proliferate. These illustrations of plants from herbal and medical manuals in the middle of the first millennium now seem crude. The first English Illustrated Herbal publication by William Turner was published in parts in 1551.

  • 1500

    Albert Durer

    In Europe the earliest pure flower paintings to survive are by Albert Durer, a painting of peonies date form circa 1503. Additionally Durer’s Da Grosse Rasenstuck was classed as the first ecological study, due to its precision and accuracy, attracting much interest from European botanists. 


  • 1685 – 1800

    Age of Reason

    Enlightenment or the Age of Reason saw Herbals merge into books of flowers grown for decoration, during the so called “florilegia”, in the sixteenth century. Botanical illustration essentially derived from European enlightenment. The florilegium’s emphasis was on the pure beauty, colour and the arrangement of different specimens of flowers and plants. Often including fauna, such as birds or insects in the compositions.

  • 1700

    Natural Philosophers

    A popular pursuit among wealthy European “natural Philosophers” (amateur scientists of the period), was the importation and cultivation of exotic plants, notably tulips, in their gardens and greenhouses. Tulips arrived in Europe from Turkey (former Ottoman Empire), in the sixteenth century. Plant collectors employed notable artists such as Georg Ehret, and Pierre-Joseph Redouté to accurately record their treasured specimens.

  • 1800 – 1900

    Golden Age

    Botanical illustration enjoyed its most illustrious era from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Known as the ‘Golden Age’ of botanical illustration. The need to document and classify new plants encouraged the development of a large systematic approach to botany and a rapid global drive to discover and document new plant and animal species.


This period pioneered the development of scientific botany and introduced a shift in botanical research from herbal gardens, dedicated to medicinal plants, to wide-ranging botanic gardens. For the first time, the study of botany became its own scientific discipline, separate from the study of medicine. Cataloguing flora coincided with the growth of nationalism and became a popular expression of national pride.  Botanical artists were coming to the tradition more from art training and a lay interest in plants and the environment than from science. Botanical illustrations history demonstrates participants interest in the art form is aligned with their response to plants, which was consistently high in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

The practice of botanical illustration continues to flourish. Examples of botanical art in popular culture can be seen in the plethora of interior design and home decoration magazines and broadcast renovation shows that showcase homes with collections of botanical art examples adorning walls and home wares. Botanical art is displayed on greeting cards, cushion covers, Jewellery, phone covers to framed artworks. Botanical art can be purchased and admired on just about any printable medium and online.

Hundreds of botanical exhibitions are held world-wide by various art groups, museums and botanic gardens to showcase artist’s works, from amateurs to the highly skilled botanical illustrator. Botanical gardens and museums use these events to draw attention to their establishments and further develop people’s understanding of plants in their conservation and management efforts.

The revival of botanical illustration can be attributed to the increased popularity of gardening and a renewed interest in nature. As we face of an increasingly technological culture a growing sense of needing to return to basics appears to have taken hold as we seek a renewed connection with the natural world. It is this renewed interest that the Efflorescence Project aims to leverage.

[1] (Blunt, stern, 2015).

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