The Transfer of Knowledge

The Transfer of Knowledge: Art of Botanical Illustration [1491 - 1920]

Introduction to Botanical Illustration

The Transfer of Knowledge: The Art of Botanical Illustration traces the development of botanical art through the centuries. Illustrated botanical works have been published for centuries to enlighten the reader about the various uses of plants for medicinal, nutritional, scientific and pleasurable purposes. The skill of the artist was critical in transferring information about individual plants to facilitate the identification of plants across neighboring regions and beyond.

Botanical artists and the images they produced were also essential in recording the discoveries of new plants as botanists and explorers traveled the world. As it was not always possible or practical to transport and maintain plants, explorers often brought artists on their voyages to record their findings through artistic representation. Field sketches were enhanced from dried specimens and notes once the artist returned home.

Proud creators of outstanding gardens often desired to document their collections by patronizing artists to produce images of their plants and publish them in book form. One example is Pierre Redoutés Les Roses, an exquisite work documenting the many roses in the gardens of Malmaison, Josephine Bonaparte’s garden.

The botanical illustrator documents the scientific detail of nature while presenting an artistic work that remains with the audience. Wilfrid Blunt wrote in the classic The Art of Botanical Illustration (1950) that botanical artists should serve both scientific accuracy and artistic effect. Blunt states, “The greatest flower artists have been those who have found beauty in truth; who have understood plants scientifically, but who have yet seen and described them with the eye and hand of the artist.” (1)

University of Minnesota Libraries

The University of Minnesota Libraries system contains over 6,000,000 volumes and offers access to some of the world’s premier research collections. It ranks 16th out of 113 research libraries in collection size; ranks first in amount of loans, and has over 2 million user visits per year. The three collections used in this exhibit are: Andersen Horticultural Library, a research library housed at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum; Magrath Library, located on the University's St. Paul Campus, a human ecology, agriculture and plant sciences library; and the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine, housed in the Bio-Medical Library complex.


(1) Blunt, Wilfrid and William T. Stearn. The Art of Botanical Illustration. New edition. Woodbridge, Suffolk : Antique Collectors’ Club in association with The Royal Botranic Gardens, Kew, 1994. p 26.