Tabernaemontanus: Herbalist and Author Known for Botanical Woodcut Illustrations
At first glance one notices the unusual oblong-shaped book at 9” x 7” x 3” in a deep brown leather binding.
Peeking inside, there are pages and pages of botanical woodcuts – more than 1,020 – each with at least two woodcuts per leaf. For our purposes, a woodcut is an illustration engraved into a block of wood.
What is this copiously-illustrated work?
Eicones plantarum seu stirpium, arborum nempe, fructicum, herbarum, fructuum, lignorum, radicum, omnis generis : tam inquilinorum, quàm exoticorum : quæ partim Germania sponte producit, partim ab exteris regionibus allata in Germania plantantur : in gratiam medicinæ reiâque herbariæ studiosorum, in tres partes digestæ : adiecto indice gemino locupletissimo [Francofurti ad Moenum: Nicolao Bassaeo, 1590], by Iacobus Theodorus (1522 or 1525 – 1590).
Or, using an abridged, summarized, and modernized translated title, “Pictures of plants, trees, herbs, fruits, and roots that are native to Germany and foreign countries, which are used for medicinal purposes, for apothecary students, and divided into three parts with the addition of a double index”.
Jacobus Theodorus (modern form of Iacobus), born in 1522 or 1525, was a German herbalist and physician. He is known by the name “Tabernaemontanus”, which comes from the Latin version of his hometown in Germany, Berg-Zabern or Tabernae Montanae.
Tabernaemontanus trained as an apothecary at first, and then changed careers and became a physician, focused on medicinal herbs as remedies. He studied under the great herbalists of his time, including Otto Brunfels and Hieronymus Bock. His seminal work, Neuw Kreuterbuch…, published in 1588, contained over 2,300 botanical woodcut illustrations with descriptions of the plants and their uses. He wrote this work to expand upon his herbalist predecessors and to enhance the knowledge of the time period. In all, he spent 36 years working on the project. Considered one of the fathers of German botany, he died in 1590, the same year Eicones plantarum was published.
Our book, Eicones plantarum…, is an edition of only the botanical woodcuts from Neuw Kreuterbuch. Although it does not have the text, it does includes the names of the plants in Latin and German.
With its content and shape, it must have been published in this way to serve a different purpose that the more typical folios of the time that were larger and comprehensive. As its title indicates, it may have been used as a quick reference guide for botanists, physicians, herbalists, and students to easily flip through to identify unknown plants and their names, in this Pre-Linnean era.
For those familiar with John Gerard’s The Herball (1597), the woodcuts may look familiar. The well- known English language Renaissance botanical work re-used many of the woodcuts from the books by Tabernaemontanus. John Norton, publisher of The Herball, acquired them from Nicolas Bassaeus, publisher of Eicones plantarum.
Digitizing this 428-year-old volume was a labor of love for us in the 21st century. The book was imaged by a team of volunteers over a three-year period. Metadata for each woodcut (including transcriptions of German and Latin names, soon to uploaded to BHL) was assigned by Mary Roback. Mary came to the Lenhardt Library as a Library Science graduate student and stayed on as a volunteer after graduation. She took on the metadata project to keep involved with special collections while undergoing chemotherapy. While she has sadly passed away, her valuable contributions to this project have left a lasting legacy, ensuring that this volume is accessible to readers around the world today and into the future. We are truly grateful for her dedication to this project and are honored to have shared this experience with her.
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