In collaboration with Statens Museum for Kunst
the German publishing house Prestel have just published a luxurious facsimile edition of The Green Florilegium. Dating back to the mid-17th century the book was originally an extensive, high-prestige collection of painstakingly hand-painted depictions of flowers both familiar and rare and exotic. The new publication offers a faithful, one-to-one reproduction of the detailed and sumptuous original images while also shedding light on a genre that is largely unknown today: the florilegium.
Flower paintings may have been reviled and marginalised by art historians as arbiters of good taste, but it has been highly prized and loved by artists, art collectors, and garden enthusiasts through the ages.
In the 17th century a new genre within flower painting saw the light of day. Amongst the most affluent garden owners the florilegium became a way of documenting the plants in their gardens, making it possible to peruse their plant collection regardless of the season. They were in essence flower collections in a book format, and the illustrations took centre stage to a much greater extent than in other books of plant illustrations. That is why the commissioning parties often appointed the very best and finest of flower painters to carry out the extensive and painstaking work. Florilegia are, then, collections of flower portraits, but ones that put particular emphasis on aesthetic qualities and on the beauty or rarity of the plants.
An unknown gem
The Green Florilegium is an example of these prestigious manuscripts. Many of the plants and botanical phenomena were rare and hence status-conferring in the mid-17th century. The person commissioning the work was obviously well informed of horticultural trends of the era, and undoubtedly the florilegium aimed to demonstrate this.
In terms of research and academic study The Green Florilegium is relatively virgin territory. The original consists of a total of 395 paintings of flowers painted in gouache onto a total of 178 pieces of parchment. The work was created by the Hamburg flower painter Hans Simon Holtzbecker, who was also the artist behind the large and today better-known four-volume florilegium known as the Gottorfer Codex.
Between ideal and documentation
The Green Florilegium is among Holtzbeckers most idealising works. Prior to the publication of the work a team of botanists associated with the University of Copenhagen have identified the species shown in the many beautiful flower portraits. However, it is clear that Holtzbeckers portraits have obviously put greater emphasis on aesthetics than on absolute verisimilitude. The flowers are beautifully composed and posed to show off their most attractive and spectacular aspects. They appear to us in a kind of ideal state, untouched by the usual vagaries of nature such as wilting leaves, insect damage, disease, or wind damage.
From hidden treasure to full display and publication
Like the Gottorfer Codex, the original manuscript of The Green Florilegium is today the property of the Royal Collection of Graphic Arts at the SMK. Through the years access to the florilegium has been greatly restricted due to the delicate condition of the paintings. It has been stored away carefully, and researchers and conservators have only inspected it at great need. The original recently underwent extensive restoration conducted by the museums conservators, restoring it to its full splendour and making its colours as fresh and bright as when Holtzbecker laid down his brushes. Now, the original manuscript is on display for the first time ever in the exhibition "Flowers and World Views", and the freshly restored flower paintings form the basis for Prestel Verlags publication of The Green Florilegium.
Exhibition and catalogue
The exhibition "Flowers and World Views" shows a lush parade of 200 years of flower painting. Featuring more than 300 works of art the exhibition offers a sensuous journey into the rich variety of flower painting, but it also delves deeper to show that a flower is not just a flower. The art of flower painting has always been in a state of flux and change. Focusing on the rich variety of 17th and 18th century painting the exhibition homes in on how artists meticulous depictions of flowers, fruits, and plants have been affected by history, and how the genre has always been infused by and contingent on the prevailing world view of its era.