The Rise of Renaissance Botany

The Rise of Renaissance Botany

Several factors led to an increased interest in the study of botany during the Renaissance:

  • The publication of herbals that included naturalistic images of plants, drawn from nature by skilled illustrators, as can be seen in the works of Otto Brunfels and Leonhard Fuchs (image 4). Toward the end of the 16th century herbals began to be published in vernacular as well, eliciting interest in the discovery, collection and classification of plants across Europe.
  • The establishment of university teaching positions in botany. The first lectureship was set up in 1514 at the University of Rome, while a chair of botany was established in 1533 at the University of Padua.
  • The rise of botanical gardens, emerging out of the medical practice of having small 'physic gardens' with medicinal plants. The first botanical garden was that of Padua in 1543 (image 5); soon other botanical gardens were sprouting across Italy and then abroad. 
  • The discovery of new plants (such as potato or tobacco) from the New World. The excitement for the medical potential of new plants was poignantly rendered in Nicolas Monardes' Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales (1574, translated into English in 1577 as Joyfull News Out of the New Found World). Monardes was perhaps most famous for promoting the medicinal role of new-found tobacco (image 7), a subject of intense debate in the 17th century. 

Credit: Georgiana Hedesan (June 2018)

Further Resources

Karen Meier Reeds, 'Renaissance humanism and botany', Annals of Science 33 (1976), pp. 519-542.

Jerry Stannard, ‘Dioscorides and Renaissance Materia Medica,’ in Herbs and Herbalism in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, edited by Katherine E. Stannard and Richard Kay (Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum, 1966), pp. 1-21.