This Week In History: January 11th – 17th

Hello all!

And welcome to yet another instalment in our This Week in History series, in which we explore the current week and a significant event in the history of medicine, science, or a plethora of other interesting and unusual topics. This week, we’re going to be looking at the birth of one of the forefathers of modern botany, Leonhart Fuchs, on the 17th January, 1501.

220px-Renaissance_C14_Füllmaurer_Leonhart_Fuchs
Leonhart Fuchs, (Public Domain Image)

Leonhart Fuchs, born in Wemding, in the Duchy of Bavaria, is perhaps best known for his seminal text, De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes, which provided the scientific community of the time with a new way of presenting botanical knowledge within an academic texts. Fuchs is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the German Renaissance, as the woodcut illustrations within his work revolutionised the way in which botany was studied and explored by scholars. The book, published in Basel in 1542, contains a number of intricate sketches and drawing of a number of plants, over a hundred of which were first time descriptions: they had never before been explored within the scope of science at the time. Included within its pages are the first known descriptions of plant life hailing from the New World, including plants such as the pumpkin, tobacco, and the potato within its scope of enquiry. The book was revolutionary in its presentation of botanical knowledge due to the intricacy of its illustrations, made possible by the collaboration between Fuchs, Albrecht Meyer, who produced the drawings, and Vitus Rudolph Speckle, who was responsible for the production of the woodcuts during the printing process.

Cannabis_sativa_1542
Illustration of Cannabis Sativa, from De historia stirpium commentarii, 1542, (Public Domain Image)

De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes was widely studied across Europe, with the work being translated into a host of different languages, including Dutch, French, German, and Latin as it was circulated across the academic sphere of Early Modern Europe. Fuchs’ influence on the world of plant life has led to his immortalisation in the naming of the biological genus ‘fuchsia‘ in his honour. To the left of this paragraph, you can see an illustration of cannabis sativa, as featured within Fuchs’ De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes and make sure to pay particular attention to the fine detail of the drawing, and try to imagine the difficulty of producing such an image in sixteenth-century Europe not just once, but over and over again.

Well, that’s about all we’ve got time for this week, make sure to keep one eye on the blog for a host of content that we’ve got coming up, and until next week, goodbye!

That’s all for now,

Dan.

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