A Book About Art's Time-Honoured Fascination With Flora

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247 Rob Kesseler
Scabiosa crenata. Fruit – diameter 7.2mm, 2013Rob Kesseler © Collection of Rob Kesseler

Phaidon’s monumental new tome is dedicated to artist responses to plants across the ages, from Ernst Haeckel through to Nobuyoshi Araki

Since long before photography, high-resolution scanning, or sophisticated microscope technology could exert their immeasurable impact on the way we view plants and flowers, human beings have been drawn to replicate their sinuous shapes and colours both for scientific and for aesthetic purposes. The proof exists in abundance, from ancient stone carvings and early watercolour paintings, to explorers’ diagrams, made on discovery of new terrains, and eye-wateringly close shots of stigma and stamen.

A gargantuan new book from Phaidon, released today, comprises all of these and many more, in gorgeous high high-resolution reproductions, and coupled with fascinating stories about their origins. “Highlights of the 300 botanical images include the oldest surviving medieval manuscript from 512AD; watercolours made on James Cook’s exploration of Australia; and an electron micrograph scan of the cannabis plant by Ted Kinsman,” Phaidon explains, while “accompanying the illustrations are stories of those adventurous botanists, scientists and painters whose names and work are lesser known or have since been forgotten.” 

Perhaps even more fascinating is the unprecedented range of artists included; alongside the bread and butter of botanical illustration – Ernst Haeckel, Charles Darwin and the like – sit Araki, Nick Knight, and Marc Quinn, resulting in a highly nuanced curation of imagery from across the ages. An indispensable coffee table book for the green-fingered and mere admirers alike.

Plant: Exploring the Botanical World is out now, published by Phaidon.