Thursday, March 29, 2012

Leonhart Fuchs Collection, Botanic Gardens, Tubingen, Germany

Fuch's Original Engraved Woodcut on Pear Wood

Woodcut with Worm Holes

Copied Portrait of Leonhart Fuchs

Leonhart Fuchs Collection: Herbals are books containing the names and descriptions of plants and their medicinal properties. The herbal had declined during the Middle Ages, western European herbals of that era were based on the works of classical authors, in particular Pedanios Dioscorides, the ancient Greek writer who was the father of medical botany. This would change with the publication of Leonhart Fuchs’ illustrated herbal De historia stirpium commentarii insigne. The plan and organization of the herbal was entirely original with Fuchs, although the work did include some material derived from his Classical predecessors. Fuchs’ De historia stirpium represented an impressive first step from medieval superstition to modern botany. Leonhart Fuchs, a German doctor of medicine, deplored the terrible state of medical practice during his lifetime. Most doctors of his time relied on information from illiterate apothecaries, whom were, in turn, depending upon the peasants who gathered roots and herbs for them. Fuchs realized that patients could easily be poisoned rather than cured because of improper identification of plants. Therefore he compiled this herbal to improve the German pharmacopoeia with a reference of accurate illustrations and identifications of medicinal herbs in both German and Latin. The result was a book of great splendor, without equal among sixteenth-century herbals. It is illustrated with 511 hand-colored woodcut figures, all original and depicted from life. Fuchs looked to living plants for his illustrations, a departure from common practice at that time, but then “improved” them by removing any natural imperfections and by showing a plant in the flowering and fruiting stages simultaneously.

In 1535, Fuchs was appointed to a professorship at Tubingen, and, while he held this post, he declined a call to the University of Pisa, and also an invitation to become physician to the King of Denmark. It is clear that, both as a physician and a teacher, he was in great demand. He acquired a wide-spread reputation by his successful treatment of a terrible epidemic disease, which swept over Germany in 1529. A little book of medical instructions and prayers against the plague, which was published in London in the latter half of the sixteenth century, shows that his fame had extended to England. It is entitled, ' A worthy practise of the moste learned Phisition Maister Leonerd Fuchsius, Doctor in Phisicke, most necessary in this needfull tyme of our visitation, for the comforte of all good and faythfull people, both olde and yonge, both for the sicke and for them that woulde avoyde the daunger of contagion.'

The man (on right) who discovered the Fuchs Plates in a rubbish pile.

Off to the University of Tubingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany

Inspecting Renaissance Botanical Manuscripts at the University of Tubingen
Medici et Botanici Celeberrimi, Exquisite Simul et Artificiose, Published in 1595
Beautiful Architecture

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