Project

Hortus Nostri Mundi

Goal: My research aims to investigate early practices of collecting and cataloguing as exemplified by the 16th Century botanic gardens and libraries of Padua (IT) and Leiden (NL).
I am particularly interested in the inter-relationships between catalogs, herbals, herbaria and botanic gardens because they show various ways in which objects have been represented, referred to, cataloged and placed within a larger collection. It is relevant for my artist’s practice because I use archives and databases as part of my artwork. From these collections, I create artwork that explores transformations between text, image and objects.
Another point of interest is a history of science and environmental issues. I am drawn to the 16th Century because the revolution in science and society that took place was linked to discovering new worlds and an expanding world view. Our world today seems to be shrinking: disappearing environments and more and more species becoming extinct.
The research will lead to creating a new art installation with digital and physical objects, that draws on the above mentioned two key world views, expansion and contraction.
Supported by a bursary from a-n The Artists Information Company

Date: 1 July 2019

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Project log

Walter van Rijn
added a research item
Translation and comments about the first catalogue of the Hortus of Padua by Cortusi’s L’horto de i semplici di Padoua 1591. Dr. Walter van Rijn and translation by Francesca Barison, Ilaria Calonego, Anna Tarzariol and Walter van Rijn. Pre-published copy, December 2019 Research supported by a bursary from a-n The Artists Information Company.
Walter van Rijn
added an update
For the second part of my research, I visited the Botanical garden and library in Padua. Being in Padua you can’t escape the historic background of the city and to get a better understanding of the Renaissance context of the Hortus and the link to the university I visited several museums.
First stop was the archaeological museum which has so much to show, it’s a bit mind-blowing. To pick one thing out in relation to my project, it has great examples of Roman script, expertly chiselled into stone. Next door is the Cappella Degli Scrovegni, with the famous Giotto di Bondone’s frescos. They are a prime example of 14th-century frescos and early-Renaissance iconography.
Next item I wanted to see was the Anatomical Theatre. It is still in its original site at the Palazzo Bo. Like the Hortus, it was part of the Medical School of the University of Padua (Anno 1222) and standing right in it I can now imagine the scene unfolding of a body being dissected while 200 people are standing almost on top of it. So tight is this windowless room it must have been a visceral experience. As an art installation, it would even today be mind-blowing.
The Hortus was founded in 1545 as part of the Medical School of the University of Padua (Anno 1222) to enable medical students to recognise and learn about medicinal plants. Together with the Anatomical Theatre, the Hortus can be seen as a physical expression of the Renaissance ideal to learn from Nature, or from your own experiences, as well as from the Classics. Besides the medical-educational usage, it also became an open-air test ground for plant classification and experimenting with plants brought back from other continents.
My first impression of visiting the Hortus (Anno 1545) is that it is large. I guess it is 4 times the size of the Hortus in Leiden (in its original design). The design from 1545 is still in place and forms a square within a circle surrounded by a wall. The square is again divided into four each one with a fountain at its centre. Each square has a different layout which makes it easy to recognise where you are in the garden. Not so much a Dutch strait line practical design but an intricate play with shapes.
Interesting to see that Goethe’s Palm planted in 1585 is still going strong and that there is a section showing plants that have been introduced into Europe through the Hortus (Potato, Sesame, Lilac and Sunflower to name a few). There is also a section showing plants that are rare and endangered and of course the medicinal plants.
With a Facsimile reprint of the first Hortus catalogue (Cortusi 1591) I tried to see how it works out to be in the garden, to observe the plants, to memorise them and to write down their name. One little path took me an hour. It reminded me of the time when I was studying landscape architecture and had to learn many plants by doing exactly the same at the school garden. This takes a long time. I can easily see that it might take years to cover all the plants in this garden. I also see the point of making the design of each square so different. It is easier to remember where you are, started, or stopped. Definitely, something to further explore for the design of an art installation.
Seeing the garden with the printed plan from the Cortusi catalogue 1591 makes it also possible to compare what is changed. For example, the squares are not raised anymore and the fountains in the centre are also not on the plan. Also the design or ground plan has become simpler, that is, the shape and number of plant boxes has changed over time. Consequently, you can't use the Cortusi catalogue anymore as workbook because it doesn't reflect precise enough the site as it is today.
Next to the Hortus is the Hortus Library where I met the very helpful librarians who showed me the original catalogues. I was mainly interested in the first one by Cortusi but seeing all of them from the 16th century is quite something.
Cortusi, Giacomo Antonio, L’horto de i semplici di Padoua… Venezia, Girolamo Porro, 1591. This catalogue has the amazing design of an exercise book with maps and blank boxes and an index, and is about an A6 size so it is easy to take with you. This was the design Paauw copied for the catalogue in Leiden. It is also interesting to see that none of the later catalogues has this feature. They all reverted back to a simple index only and some are really small. Just the size of an A7.
The copy in this library had no hand writing in it. The librarian told me that the city library also has a copy, but one with plant names written in it. Next day I visited the city Library and their copy was bound together with other books. It was many blank but it had on one page plant names written in it. In addition, it also had some other pages in the introduction. An image of Cortusi for example.
I also discovered something else in the Hortus. There was a display with prints of plants made with a technique I had never heard of. By smoking the original and then pressing into paper. The results are amazing. Asking about it the librarians said they can’t tell me exactly how that was made. Do you need to dry the plants first or not? What kind of smoke was used? The results are so amazing that needs further investigation!
So, again, lots of info and ideas to take home and explore further. Also great to make some new connections and contact to develop my project further.
 
Walter van Rijn
added an update
The publication Hortus Publicus Academiæ Lugduno-Batavæ by Pieter Paaw (1601) is written in Latin and amazingly for this first catalogue of the Hortus there does not seem to be a translation of the introduction text. I guess most researchers who are interested in this book are researching the list of plants at the end of the book. I am more interested in the design aspect of it, and the relationship to the garden. It would be great to be able to read what the author has written in the introduction.
I hope to find researchers who might be able to translate the introduction text from Latin to English for me. I will transcribe the Latin text and upload it here, so hopefully someone might find it interesting enough to translate it. (If you can or prefer to translate from Latin to Dutch that is also OK.)
I am also in the process to organise the same for the first catalogue that was published for the Hortus in Padua. There the same happened. No translation in English seems to be avialable.
*** That is now ready and I have uploaded that in this project file.
see: Cortusi’s L’horto de i semplici di Padoua 1591, translation and exercise-book layout of the Botanical Garden of Padua.
Eventually, when the translations are ready I aim to make those avialable for researchers here.
The book in question:
Paaw, P., & Raphelengius, Christophorus. (1601). Hortus Publicus Academiæ Lugduno-Batavæ, eius Ichnographia, descriptio, usus : Addito quas habet stirpium numero et nominibus. Lugd. Bat.: Ex officina Plantiniana, apud Christophorum Raphelengium, Academiæ Lugduno-Bat. Typographum.
Leiden University Library link:
google books link:
I have added a transcription of the Latin text as a .txt file. This is a file you can import into any word processing program.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
 
Walter van Rijn
added 4 project references
Walter van Rijn
added an update
Research visit Hortus Botanicus and the Special Collections Library of the University of Leiden.
In July this year (2019), I visited the Hortus Botanicus and the Special Collections Library of the University of Leiden (NL). I wanted to experience both the Hortus and the first catalogue of it in person. I am lucky because the hortus has been reconstructed in its sixteenth / seventeenth century form and its first representation in book form, as catalogue from 1601, is still available in the library. To experience these in the first person is vital because that was in a sense their purpose. They are both teaching aids, and were then part of a new teaching method that aimed to study not only from books, but more inportantly after life. Looking, experiencing and testing the real thing (for example, the human body or plants for medicinal usage) instead of relying on knowledge in books passed down from greek and roman philosophers.
For example can you recognise the plant from this illustration (taken from a coloured copy of Cruydt boeck by Rembertus Dodonaeus, the standard work of the time)?
I am intrigued by the links between the design of the library, catalogue and hortus. The first catalogue of the Hortus was by Pieter Paaw (1601) Hortus Publicus Academiæ Lugduno-Batavæ.1)
The catalogue includes a map of the hortus (see photographs). It is populated with figures showing how it is used and it marks the planting beds so that the position of each plant can be catalogued. Each plant can then be found back just like a book in the library. The index gives then an overview of all plants. The really clever part of the catalogue design is the open boxes on each page where the user of the book can write in the names of the plants. This makes it a study aid or work book for the student and at the same time creates a framework for cataloging the position of all the plants, which are constantly changing. The catalogue is the size of a pocket book so it is easy to carry with you.
I viewed a few copies in the library and they were the copies from Pieter Paaw (Keeper of the Hortus, and professor of anatomy and botany) who has written in a really neat handwriting the names of plants in it. Clearly not done in the garden but after a stock take. So instead of having to print a new book each year, they could take a blank copy and write in the plant names. All the copies together show then the development of the garden and log the dynamic nature of the plant collection. The design of the catalogue with open boxes to be written into was not new but Paaw adapted it from an example he came across while studying in Padua, Italy. I will follow this trail in my study visit to Padua.
There is actually a lot to pick apart from my visit to Leiden and I will take some time to go through some of the literature I found to research the background story of the hortus and its context. For instance the sixteenth / seventeenth century is known for all the collections of curiosities and cabinets of naturalia created by scholarly collectors and the aristocracy. These were connected to libraries and the idea that one could make a collection of ‘everything’, collect all books, or all plants, or at least a sense of wanting to gather as much knowledge as possible to be able to read ‘the book of Nature’. Within all of this lies a complex web of religious, scientific, or aesthetic motivations or we can look at it as a status symbol.
One book in the library caught my eye (finding things by chance is still one of my favourite strategies of gathering information): Egmond, F., & Coenen, A. Het visboek: de wereld volgens Adriaen Coenen 1514-1587. 2) The book reproduces illustrated manuscripts by Adriaen Coenen who collected stories, beached wales and other marine material and produced several manuscripts of his findings. Full of fact and rumours but Adriaen Coenen produced one of the first catalogues of wales. It gives an insight of what the state of gathering of knowledge about our world was like in the sixteenth century.
To come back to the publication of Pieter Paaw (1601) Hortus Publicus Academiæ Lugduno-Batavæ. It is written in Latin and amazingly for this first catalogue of the hortus there does not seem to be a translation of the introduction text. I guess most researchers are more interested in the list of plants at the end of the book. I hope to find researchers who might be able translate the introduction text for me. I will place a link to an update here soon. I will transcribe the Latin text and upload it so hopefully someone might find it interesting enough to translate it.
Notes
1) Paaw, P., & Raphelengius, Christophorus. (1601). Hortus Publicus Academiæ Lugduno-Batavæ, eius Ichnographia, descriptio, usus : Addito quas habet stirpium numero et nominibus. Lugd. Bat.: Ex officina Plantiniana, apud Christophorum Raphelengium, Academiæ Lugduno-Bat. Typographum.
2) Egmond, F., & Coenen, A. (2005). Het visboek: de wereld volgens Adriaen Coenen 1514-1587: Walburg Pers.
 
Walter van Rijn
added a project goal
My research aims to investigate early practices of collecting and cataloguing as exemplified by the 16th Century botanic gardens and libraries of Padua (IT) and Leiden (NL).
I am particularly interested in the inter-relationships between catalogs, herbals, herbaria and botanic gardens because they show various ways in which objects have been represented, referred to, cataloged and placed within a larger collection. It is relevant for my artist’s practice because I use archives and databases as part of my artwork. From these collections, I create artwork that explores transformations between text, image and objects.
Another point of interest is a history of science and environmental issues. I am drawn to the 16th Century because the revolution in science and society that took place was linked to discovering new worlds and an expanding world view. Our world today seems to be shrinking: disappearing environments and more and more species becoming extinct.
The research will lead to creating a new art installation with digital and physical objects, that draws on the above mentioned two key world views, expansion and contraction.
Supported by a bursary from a-n The Artists Information Company