With all the modern imaging technologies today it’s easy to forget that even just 150 years ago the only way to illustrate any kind of book was by hand-made drawings and paintings. In the case of scientific works – be it a herbal for physicians and pharmacists, a gardeners handbook, or an account about the flora and fauna of some newly discovered territory – the perfect depiction of the subject with utmost attention to fine details was crucial and required not only scientific accuracy and the understanding of morphology but also great artistic skill.
From around the 1700’s, with the spreading of a more affordable book printing process these books became available for wider audiences; and the works of great illustrators like Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Anne Pratt, Georg Ehret, Maria Sibylla Merian, John James Audubon or Ernst Haeckel ( the latter two naturalists themselves) became fairly well known and popular.
One of my personal favorites among the lesser known illustrators of this era is Madame Berthe Hoola van Nooten, a Dutch artist who spent several years on the Dutch East Indies and made a beautiful botanical plate series illustrating 40 exotic plant species of the island of Java. The fineness, the delicate coloration, the accuracy and artistic details of her works are incredible – Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages Choisis de l’Ile de Java (Flowers, fruits and plants from the island of Java) was published in 1863-64 in Brussels with descriptions of the 40 selected plants and excellently executed chromolithographs of the original drawings.
My family has been running an antique book shop for decades – through our connections I had the opportunity to access high resolution scans of these illustrations and digitally restore and clean them. You can check out all 40 illustrations in this gallery, art prints of the restored images are available in different sizes in my store.
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