Arum dioscorides

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries botanists began to compare Dioscorides’ descriptions with actual plants in an effort both to identify what was in the Materia medica and to learn about the many species which, it was realized, had been left out. To this end they travelled to the Mediterranean. One such traveller was a wealthy young botanist called John Sibthorpe, the Sherardian Professor of Botany at Oxford. He employed a brilliant Austrian artist, Ferdinand Bauer, to accompany him and make drawings of all the plants they encountered. Back in Oxford, Bauer developed these pencil drawings into life-sized watercolours which successfully combine rigorous scientific accuracy with artistic beauty. Shown here is Bauer’s painting of Arum dioscorides, a distinctive Mediterranean species which Smith described as new to science, and which was named after the ancient Greek authority who had first inspired the project more than half a century earlier.


Pencil and watercolour with gum arabic on paper; 489 x 292 mm