A Guide to Collecting Antique Botanical Prints

Loved for their beauty, whimsy, and relative affordability, botanical prints offer a wonderful avenue for novice and seasoned collectors alike. Whether displayed as solitary statement pieces or as part of a larger floral assemblage, botanical prints – with their organic shapes and natural color palettes – tend to blend seamlessly into any environment. This article surveys the historical use of botanical imagery, the common types of botanical prints, and their relevance in today’s market.

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Historically, botanical art served both aesthetic and practical purposes

Historically, botanical prints have served a number of practical and aesthetic purposes. Initially, plant illustrations were used by apothecaries and medical practitioners to identify plants and herbs relating to their practice. It was not until the 1600s that botanical folios were routinely produced for purely aesthetic purposes. With the birth of the florilegium – which focused primarily on the beauty rather than the use value of its blossoming contents – botanical prints gained popularity as decorative items.

It was during this time that vast gardens were cultivated by European nobility to showcase their affluence and abundance. Such was the impetus behind Basilius Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis – the first great botanical folio of its kind. Commissioned by Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, the prince bishop of Eichstatt, Besler’s florilegium visually cataloged the bishop’s extensive garden. Focusing on the plant’s beauty with less regard for scientific accuracy, the folio was made for visual luxuriation. 

Besler's Hortus Eystettensis sold at Christies in 2016 for GBP 1,930,500

Basilius Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis (1613) was the first great florilegium 

A copy sold at Christies in 2016 for $2,401,599.92

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Browse Besler's Botanicalsview artwork

Hortus Eystettensis - Deluxe Edition - Antique Originals

Besler Deluxe Ed. Pl. 345, Potato, Lemon thyme, Thyme

$3,500.00

Original Engraving | circa 1613 | 22 x 16.5 inches

Hortus Eystettensis - Deluxe Edition - Antique Originals

Besler Deluxe Ed. Pl. 302, Greater bindweed, Scammony, Sea bindweed

$3,500.00

Original Engraving | circa 1613 | 22 x 16.5 inches

Hortus Eystettensis - Deluxe Edition - Antique Originals

Besler Deluxe Ed. Pl. 186, Scarlet turk’s-cap lily, Autumn squill

$7,500.00

Original Engraving | circa 1613 | 22 x 16.5 inches

Hortus Eystettensis - 1st Edition - Antique Originals

Besler 1st Edition, Title Page

$1,200.00

Original Engraving | circa 1613 | 22 x 16.5 inches

Hortus Eystettensis - 1st Edition - Antique Originals

Besler 1st Ed. Pl. 367, Fumewort; Mezereon; Cornelian Cherry; Spring Crocus

$1,800.00

Original Engraving | circa 1613 | 22 x 16.5 inches

Hortus Eystettensis - 1st Edition - Antique Originals

Besler 1st Ed. Pl. 365, Winter Aconite; White and Purple Butterburs

$2,200.00

Original Engraving | circa 1613 | 22 x 16.5 inches

Hortus Eystettensis - 1st Edition - Antique Originals

Besler 1st Ed. Pl. 353, Jerusalem Thorn; Multiflorous Meadow Saffron

$3,200.00

Original Engraving | circa 1613 | 22 x 16.5 inches

Hortus Eystettensis - 1st Edition - Antique Originals

Besler 1st Ed. Pl. 343, Thorn Apple; Germander; Purple Linaria

$1,800.00

Original Engraving | circa 1613 | 22 x 16.5 inches

However, botanical folios retained a practical use for artists and craftsmen who used the splendidly illustrated folios as reference material for their own work. For instance, it is not uncommon to find one of Redoute’s roses or lilies on a 19th-century porcelain vase or textile because these industries used his botanical folios as reference material for their designs.

Botanical folios retained a practical use for artists and craftsmen who used the splendidly illustrated folios as reference material for their own work.

 Sèvres plate from Service des plantes de la Malmaison

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Redoute's work was widely referenced in the porcelain and textile trades.

Redouté Lilies Pl. 39, Scarlet or Blood Haemanthus

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Browse Redouté's Floralsview artwork

$4,550.00

Antique original color stipple engraving; circa 1802 – 1816

$840.00

Antique original color stipple engraving; circa 1802 – 1816

$1,960.00

Original stipple engraving | circa 1817 – 1824 | 14 1/4 x 10 5/8 inches

$600.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print; circa 2008

Likewise, gardeners sometimes turned to botanical publications as manuals for cultivating particular plant or fruit varietals as is the case with George Brookshaw’s Pomona Brittanica. Catering to the botanical trends of the day, Brookshaw’s folio was intended to cultivate the tastes of higher-class gentlemen so that they might instruct their gardeners on implementing fashionable fruit varietals. Similarly, Robert Furber’s The Twelve Months of the Year in Flowers acts as a guide to planting seasonal blossoms throughout the year.

Browse Brookshaw's Botanicalsview artwork

$400.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2011 | Limited Edition of 200 | 23 x 18 ½ inches

$400.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2011 | Limited Edition of 200 | 23 x 18 ½ inches

$400.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2011 | Limited Edition of 200 | 23 x 18 ½ inches

$400.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2011 | Limited Edition of 200 | 23 x 18 ½ inches

$400.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2011 | Limited Edition of 200 | 23 x 18 ½ inches

$400.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2011 | Limited Edition of 200 | 23 x 18 ½ inches

$400.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2011 | Limited Edition of 200 | 23 x 18 ½ inches

Pomona Britannica - Oppenheimer Editions

Brookshaw Pl. 60, White Hamburgh | By Oppenheimer Editions

$400.00

Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2011 | Limited Edition of 200 | 23 x 18 ½ inches

What type of botanical prints are there?

Following the developmental trajectory of printmaking, botanical prints were rendered through a variety of methods including woodblock printing, engraving, and lithography. The multiplicity of these techniques allowed the images to be disseminated on a larger scale, facilitating both the practical and aesthetic uses of the prints.

Early botanical prints are typically woodblock prints

Many early representations of plants were woodblock prints

16th-century Italian botanical woodblock print

Poiteau Pl. 203, Plaqueminier de Virginie

Poiteau used stipple engraving to capture the plant’s soft form and delicate texture.

Poiteau Pl. 203, Plaqueminier de Virginie

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Many early representations of plants were woodblock prints, but as printing technologies advanced, 16th-century botanical artists adopted engraving techniques that facilitated the representation of delicate plants. In fact, artists such as Pierre-Joseph Redoute and Pierre-Antoine Poiteau relied on a specific form of engraving called stipple engraving to capture the soft forms and delicate textures of the plants they rendered through dots rather than harsh contour lines. Similarly, the end of the 18th century introduced lithography, a new printing technique that proved enticing to artists because of its similarity to drawing.

Browse Poiteau's Plantsview artwork

Pomologie Française – Antique Originals

Poiteau Pl. 418, Pin pignon (fruits)

$700.00

Hand-applied stipple engraving; circa 1846

Pomologie Française – Antique Originals

Poiteau Pl. 412, Noisetier cornu

$500.00

Hand-applied stipple engraving; circa 1846

Pomologie Française – Antique Originals

Poiteau Pl. 413, Noisetier du Levant

$400.00

Hand-applied stipple engraving; circa 1846

Pomologie Française – Antique Originals

Poiteau Pl. 409, Noisetier Avelinier de Provence

$600.00

Hand-applied stipple engraving; circa 1846

Pomologie Française – Antique Originals

Poiteau Pl. 405, Noyer a bijoux

$400.00

Hand-applied stipple engraving; circa 1846

Pomologie Française – Antique Originals

Poiteau Pl. 403, Azerolier a feuilles de Tanaisie

$400.00

Hand-applied stipple engraving; circa 1846

Pomologie Française – Antique Originals

Poiteau Pl. 401, Azerolier a feuilles de Poirier, (fruit rouge)

$750.00

Hand-applied stipple engraving; circa 1846

Pomologie Française – Antique Originals

Poiteau Pl. 402, Azerolier a feuilles de poirer

$400.00

Hand-applied stipple engraving; circa 1846

How have these antique prints survived?

Many of these venerable botanical prints have survived the centuries by being bound in folios. While we might be familiar with the sight of a framed botanical print, it may surprise some collectors to discover that many antique botanical prints were initially issued in bound volumes. The book format often aids in preserving individual prints because it keeps them flat and away from UV exposure. Thus we are left with richly colored prints today that can be displayed and preserved behind UV-filtering glass.  

Many botanical prints were preserved in bound folios

Many botanical prints were initially issued in bound volumes which aided in their preservation by mitigating UV exposure. 

Pierre-Joseph Redoute’s Les Liliacées, 1805-1816.

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What is appealing to collectors?

Antique botanical prints can be a surprisingly affordable genre of art that attracts collectors of all backgrounds. As with most art, collectors are often drawn to engaging compositions, rich coloring, and good condition. Additionally, because of the plentitude of botanical prints produced from the 17th-19th centuries, authorship plays a major role in determining the value of the print with works by more notable artists commanding higher values than those by lesser-known artists. Lastly, certain plant species are often more desirable than others. For example, Redoute’s Tiger Lily typically commands significantly more than his Lusitanian Garlic

In conclusion, botanical art is an excellent avenue for new and seasoned collectors alike. The vast range in subject matter and price means that there’s something out there for every collector. Whether one is drawn to botanical artwork for its aesthetic or didactic qualities, plant prints have historically been a mainstay in domestic spaces for centuries. Today, antique botanical prints retain their appeal as informative and aesthetically pleasing objects. Defying the inevitable decay of a living bouquet, botanical prints can last for many lifetimes, preserving history along the way.

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