The time has come to get going. After a slightly longer than anticipated break I’m beginning the research, notes, roughs plans, and trials for my MA dissertation and the major project. Time slips by so very quickly and I have just 7 months left.
The Hortus Project
So what am I going to do? For the dissertation I am not sure but the major project has been triggered by a visit last year to the Hortus in Amsterdam, a garden started in 1635 initially as an educational medicinal garden to train apothecaries and doctors and aid them in their efforts to improve the health of 17th Century Amsterdam’s growing population.
The 17th century Dutch Republic was in the forefront of trade, exploration, science and art. It was also a busy and exciting time for doctors, surgeons and of course the accompanying herbalists and apothecaries.
But although my jumping off point is the Hortus, my actual work will be much more general, looking further back, long before the Amsterdam Garden, reflecting the stories of not only the plants but the people involved in the transformation of plants into helpful (sometimes) drugs and potions. I assume without us the medicinal plants would carry on being just plants, incidentally attending to knowing animals. So the people are important and I am looking at the botanists, the explorers, the herbalists, gardeners, apothecaries and doctors… not forgetting the patients of course.
Here is one of the Botanists….
Jan Commelin uncle of Caspar ( above) Botanist, one of the founders of the Hortus and a rich man. Medicinal herbs were good business.
The story of medicinal plants is very very complex. For as long as man suffered ailments he looked for remedies wherever he could find them. Trial and error, knowledge passed down by word of mouth from a lucky survivor and eventually written accounts, the earliest, a Sumerian tablet listing herbal remedies which dates back 5000 years and refers to over 250 plants
Thousands of plants were thought to have medicinal uses and few bits of animals, rocks and minerals too. In my limited time I can only look at a few so I decided to ask Hanneke Schreiber, Head of the Garden and the Collection at the Hortus to choose her favourite medicinal plants which were part of the original collection. That’s my starting point.
Here is one, from the British Library. The ancient and dangerous Henbane.
An Illustration from the “ Tractatus de herbis (Herbal); De Simplici Medicina by Bartholomaei Mini de Senis, Platearius, and Nicolaus of Salerno” . circa 1300
Lots to do, research, paint, print and draw..happy me.