Botanical painting was born from the need to easily identify and harvest plants for medicinal purposes. Dating back to 512 A.C., the earliest existing botanical illustrations can be found in the Codex Vindebonensis (a copy of Greek physician Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, originally compiled in 77 A.C.). A brilliant example of botanical art, the herbarium is currently held at the Vienna library. Subsequently, and throughout the Middle Ages, botanical illustration lost its naturalistic features, and plants were depicted with a multitude of demons, angels and anthropomorphic figures.
It was during the Renaissance that botanical illustration regained its splendour. During this period, the greatest exponents of the marriage between art and science were Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer and Jacopo Ligozzi. In Italy, active patrons and collectors of fine art were the Medici dynasty in Florence and the Gonzaga family in Mantua.
Employed by the Medici court in 1577, scientific illustrator Jacopo Ligozzi is celebrated for his depictions of magnificent herbariums, aquarelles and unique pieces. Admired and studied by renowned naturalists of the period, such as the Bolognese, Ulisse Aldrovandi, Ligozzi’s work can still be seen today at the Uffizi gallery in Florence.