Detective story: The Flora Universalis

Awhile ago I bought botanical prints at flea market. The prints were in a bad shape: marked, stained, cut, ripped, with handwriting on the other side, etc. They cost not so much and I planned to use them in my art [to make frames for other botanical prints in my collection]. After some time I looked at them again, this time more carefully and realized – I have got something interesting in my hands…

First of all, some of the prints have the small  additional hand drawings with legends. Second, the colors do not looked finalized but rather resemble washed colors for study. Third, many prints have OTHER prints on the other side, not related to the subject, in some cases it is animal print, plant print, some other things [the final book prints were always one-sided].

Forth, and the most exiting!, the hand writing from the other side and marks and stains are appeared to be the marks from post! There is the address, stamp, signature, the hole from the seal…

I decided to dig into it.

Corydalis botanical hand colored print [fragment].

Even though the colors do not look finalized they are still gorgeous on this print of Corydalis physocarpa!

Backside with name [Herr Ernst Lobe] and address [Weimar], year 1854.

The first clue was a style of the prints and address of course: the style is typical German – no free space, everything is cluttered, multiple species per page. This kind of style appeared with Bertuch’s “Bilderbuch für Kinder” [Picturebook for Children] and existed for some time only in Germany. Friedrich Bertuch used to put at one print more than one plant species and in some [many] cases even mix animal and plants. The whole Picturebook for Children can be found here [check it! it is very interesting].

Zuckerahorn und Kartoffel, Bertuch 1796. Example of the print from Bertuch’s Picturebook for Children.

Unfortunately, knowing year, country and probably publisher was not enough to figure out where these prints came from. Why not? The reason was very simple. The prints came from very obscure work. The prints themselves are NOT final prints but proofs sent from author to artists/publisher/editor [?? unclear]. Anyway, after a few months digging in internet and library I figured it out! :] The prints in my lap are from The Flora Universalis which is fundamental work of Dr. David Dietrich. The Flora Universalis was printed primarily in 1830th, but some parts of it were printed much later during 50th and even 60th. This is obscure and scarce work, consisted of over 4500 prints and 476 booklets. Some of the prints can be seen here and here.

Iris from The Flora Universalis, David Dietrich, 1833-35. From here.


  1. Your blog is great! Very interesting! I’m glad I stopped by! Best wishes, Helen

  2. These prints are very pretty. I love the idea of putting lots of effort into everything you do (just look at the detail!), I guess this was popular when we didn’t have any exciting devices, for e.g. photo cameras.

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