November 2019
« Oct    

Photos & text

Creative Commons License
Photos & texts by Sabina Burrascano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Italy License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at:

More than alike

I was not really seeking for green wonders when I found the book I am going to write about in this post. I was rather browsing through the stall of the most famous flea market in Rome when a familiar shape caught my sight.Book Cover

My ravished face did not allow me to bargain as I could…however I had a tiny reduction anyway. The book was about a combination of two things I love: art and plants.

It is a book made of plants illustrations, mostly works in watercolors, all belonging to a British collector, a woman that spent a lot of time and energies not only in collecting botanical illustrations but also in promoting this art genre. Her name is Shirley Sherwood and to give you an idea of the role this woman has in the spread of botanical illustration it is enough to remind that the first gallery in the world dedicated solely to botanical art is named after her: Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.

Indeed Botanical illustration has been gradually replaced by photography in the task of accurately reproduce plants. For this reason not many people practice this kind of art today; however, even if it sounds passé I think it is absolutely natural for people who like drawing and painting to reproduce plants. In order to survive photography this genre had to substantially change its focus. Today the goal of a botanical illustrator is not only to faithfully represent a species but also to choose a detail, a moment in a plant life, something beautiful, or to compare different parts or species, to offer the observer a different perspective.

The change to which botanical illustrations were subjected in the last centuries is extremely clear if you browse the first pages of the book by Shirley Sherwood. In fact one of the things that make this book interesting is that in the first pages pairs of illustrations are displayed that represent the same species, or similar species, painted by contempLilium new-schoolorary artists and by artists from the 17th-18th century.Lilium old-school

I report here only a few examples through which the different approaches of the artists are evident. I chose two illustrations of Lilium (older illustration by Francis Bauer & Ferdinand Bauer, contemporary by Coral Guest), and two of conifers (older illustration by Georg D. Ehret, contemporary by Brigid Edwards). In both the oldest ones the artist tries to highlight the traits by which the observer can identify the species, also through text in the case of Lilium. In the contemporary illustrations text disappeared and the plant is represented through a few parts or even a single part as in the case of Pseudotsuga menziesii cone.

Pinus old-schoolDouglas fir cone



Another case in which only a fruit is painted, without any hint on how the plant that will develop from it could look like, is the Illustration by Coral Guest in which a Screw Pine nut is represented (Pandanus sp.). I find this illustration extremely powerful since it catches the beauty of a part of a plant that maybe I would not have appreciated in its actual form.

MagnoliaThis trend can be more extreme as in the case of this representation of Magnolia by Susannah Blaxill in which only two parts of the plants are chosen for the illustration and represented apart from the whole plant; these parts are painted in a moment that is absolutely not the best time to analyse their traits in the view of the plant identification.

Acorns from Brunei

In this book I also appreciated those illustrations that represent a series of similar plant structures allowing the observer to spend time comparing them, finding similarities, differences, wondering about convergence or a unique form of time lapse.


This is the case of the illustrations by Mieko Ishikawa letting us know how many species of oaks occur in Brunei through the representation of their wonderful acorns; or of the Rosiers painted by Regine Hagerdorn in which the artist points out a part of roses that is not usually appreciated but that reaches a very high degree of diversification, thorns.




Rose thorns

While Regine Hagerdorn helps us to appreciate differences, Alvaro Nunes in its Fruit of Savannah wants us to notice similarities and to hypothesize convergences. Finally a nice time lapse is realized in the representation of the goat willow blossom by Brenda Watts.

Goat willow time lapse

You must be logged in to post a comment.