The work of Basilus Besler, a respected Nuremberg apothecary, botanist and curator, is world renowned because of his magnificent flower prints from the very first great botanical folio.  He is best known for his monumental Hortus Eystettensis (Garden in Eichstätt), published in Nuremberg in 1613.


The prints were commissioned by Johann Konrad von Gemmingen (c. 1561-1612), Prince-Bishop of Eichstätt, to chronicle his garden through the four seasons, with most of the plants depicted at actual size.  This garden, which encircled the Episcopal residence, was the only notable European botanical Garden outside of Italy.  The garden was one of the first of its kind, an inclusive display of shrubs and flowering plants, mostly European, but with some exotic species from Asia, Africa and the Americas.


Basil Besler was retained as an artist to record the glories of the garden.  Besler worked on it intermittently over a 16-year period, on site or from specimens.  A team of at least six engravers faithfully translated Besler’s drawings to copperplates, Wolfgang Kilian was the chief amongst them.


The publication of Hortus Eystettensis changed botanical art overnight.  Garden flowers, vegetables, exotic plants and herbs were artistically composed, elaborately depicted near life-size and arranged with an average of 3 plants per page.  Each print was a massive 57cm x 46cm, elephant folio size.  More than 1000 plants were depicted, reflecting the four seasons in the prince’s garden.  Only a few copies were coloured at the time of printing.


The first edition of 300 copies, published in 1613, took four years to sell.  Besler was able to purchase a comfortable home for 2500 florins (5 copies of Hortus Eystettensis).  It was published twice more in Nuremberg in 1640 and 1713, using the original copper plates which were later destroyed by the Royal Mint of Munich in 1817.


Our copies have been identified dating back to the first publication in 1613.

Our selection includes iris, hyacinth, lillium, anemone and cyclamen.

Each print has 3 specimens per page with each species identified with its Latin name on the print.


The first large-folio natural history botanical, Basilius Besler’s magnificent work, Hortus Eystettensis (Garden of Eichstätt), is the earliest pictorial record of a specific garden, and the oldest of all of the great botanicals.  Over 1,000 varieties of flowers are depicted in 367 exquisitely engraved and coloured plates.

The first botanical in history, to portray flowering plants as objects of beauty, “Hortus Eystettensis deviated from non-aesthetic and awkward representations of preceding publications that focused on plants as herbal subjects and set the standard for great flower folios of the following centuries”.  Wilfred Blunt, noted author of The Art of Botanical Illustration an Illustrated History, writes of the Besler Florilegium.

“The designs are really impressive, and the invention rarely flags; the rhythmic pattern of the roots, the calligraphic possibilities of lettering, are fully explored and utilised; and the dramatic effect of the whole is enhanced by the noble proportions of the plates, which, when coloured make decorations that remained unrivaled until the publication nearly two centuries later of Thornton’s Temple of Flora.”

Work on the first comprehensive botanical garden, devoted to flowering plants in Germany was begun in 1596, under the direction of the German botanist and physician Joachim Camerarius the Younger.  Eight separate gardens were constructed at Willibaldsburg Castle, the residence of Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt.  Each garden was devoted to flowers of a different country.  Exotic flowers were imported from the Netherlands, Americas, and the Ottoman Empire.  Upon Joachim Camerarius’ death in 1598, the Bishop called upon Basilius Besler (1561—1629), a Nuremberg apothecary, for guidance on specimens for the gardens.

Basilius Besler introduced the idea of documenting the vast garden and depicting each plant, as it bloomed, throughout the four seasons, hence the work is sometimes referred to as the Four Seasons.  The Prince Bishop wrote that the Nuremberg apothecary “wishes to have [drawings of his flowers] engraved in copper, printed, dedicated to me and to seek his fame and profit with the book….”  Basilius Besler worked on the drawings for 16 years, but most of the coloured sketches were made between 1610 and 1612.  These were sent to the workshop of Wolfgang Kilian in Augsburg, to be translated by skilled artists into black-and-white drawings, that could serve as templates for the engravings, which were executed in Wolfgang Kilian’s workshop by a team of engravers. Colourists then carefully hand-coloured each engraved plate.

Every antique work of art that you purchase on our website, is guaranteed to be authentic and of the finest quality.  They will last for generations, when cared for properly.

The gardens were ransacked by invading Spanish troops in 1633-64 but were reconstructed and opened to the public of Eichstätt in 1998.


Hortus Eystettensis

[The Garden of Eichstätt]

Nuremberg: 1613 (1st ed.), 1640 (2nd ed.), 1713 [- c. 1750] (3rd ed.)

Hand-coloured copperplate engravings.

545 x 435mm  (16.75 inches,) sheet, average approximate

480 x 400 inches, plate mark.

 Related Tag: Antique Botanical Prints


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