Watercolours from a 16th-Century De Materia Medica


These wonderful full-page watercolour illustrations are from a 16th-century edition of Pedanius Dioscorides’s work on herbal medicine, De Materia Medica. Dioscorides (ca. 40–90 AD), a Greek physician and botanist, is considered to be the father of pharmacology, with this five-volume book hailed as the forerunner of modern pharmacopoeias (books that record medicines along with their effects and directions for their use). His book was translated from the original Greek to Latin, Arabic, and Spanish, and continued to be in use with additions and commentaries written by various authors, one of them being the 16th-century Italian doctor Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501–1577). Describing one hundred new plants not included by Dioscorides, Mattioli’s expansion of the book first appeared in Italian and was later translated into Latin, French, Czech, and German. These illustrations, found in Mattioli’s version of the book, are dated between 1564–1584 and are the creation of the Italian artist and botanist Gherardo Cibo (1512–1600).

The images, in which the plants take centre stage before a landscaped backdrop, seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to the images found in Robert Thornton’s “Temple of Flora”.

From: British Library
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
Download: Right click on image or see source for higher res versions

Crocus sativus
Viola odorata
Olea europaea
Callystegia soldanella
Phyllitis hemionitis
Gladiolus Italicus
Mercurialis annua
Plantago maior
Abronia arenaria and Solidago virga-aurea
Galanthus and Ipheion
Asplenium scolopendrium
Asarum europaeum
Helleboris viridis
Euphrasia officinalis
Paeonia mascula

  • Kate

    Lovely! Anyone know why all the plants have Linnean names when the book was published much earlier, though?

    • Kolef88

      Good point, but the Linnaean binomial classifications that appears beneath each illustration were not found in the Mattiolin edition of De Materia Medica, but were inserted by a PDR website editor. The names of the plants at that time were handwritten at the top of each page. Crocus Sativus was known as Zafferano.

  • I need a higher resolution image but I don’t know what “…or see source for higher res versions”. I have viewed the page source but I can’t find a higher resolution image.