Rare Books on the Web – Virtual Inspiration

This week’s blog is written by Alexandra Caccamo, Librarian at the National Botanic Gardens.

Many of you have been able to visit the library in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, where Colette Edwards and I work, and there you’ll have seen first-hand some of the rare books and botanical art in the collection. For those of you who haven’t been able to avail of a tour, I thought I’d put together a short list of virtual resources that you can peruse at your leisure. Some of the resources are items that we have in our collection but I’ve also included general resources that might be of interest.

One rare book which is always included as part of a tour is the Flora Graeca by John Sibthorp, illustrated by Ferdinand Bauer. The Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford has digitised the Flora Graeca, and made it freely available online.  Along with the published version of the book, they have also digitised the original drawings, Fauna Graeca and Mediterranean scenes.

The frontispiece of Flora Graeca, from the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

Sibthorpe’s Flora Graeca, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus :and the temple of Flora, or garden of nature  (or The Temple of Flora as it is more often known) by Robert John Thornton can be found in the Missouri Botanic Gardens digital library, Botanicus.  This is another item that is in our collection but one we don’t often take out for tours, so here is a chance to get a glimpse of this beautiful book.  They have helpfully indicated where the illustrations are, making them very easy to locate.

A plate from Thornton's The Temple of Flora, in the collection of National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

A plate from Thornton’s The Temple of Flora, in the collection of National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

The oldest book in our collection, and one that is always included in a library tour, is Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones.  A digital version of this is also available on Botanicus. Unfortunately, the illustrations are not marked on the page list but a browse through should reveal some of this book’s treasures.

from Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

from Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

Another digital library can be found at the website of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library in the New York Botanical Garden.  This site has photographs, archives, stamps, nursery catalogues as well as some of their flower books available to view, as part of the Mertz Digital Collections.

And last but by no means least, there is the Biodiversity Heritage Library or BHL for short.  This amazing resource is a collaborative project between a number of natural history libraries (including Missouri Botanical Gardens, LuEsther T. Mertz Library and the Natural History Museum to name a few) to make their collections available online.  It is an essential resource for anyone interested in botany or natural history.  On the main site you will be able to search for and view many rare botanical books, including items such as Redouté’s Les Liliacées along with many more. The BHL flickr stream  might also be of interest as it features some magnificent illustrations from their digital library.

from Redouté's Les Liliacées, National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

from Redouté’s Les Liliacées , in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

This is only a short list but I hope that gives you a flavour of what is available for you to view online.

Botanical Art in Bloom

This week’s blog is written by Liz Prendergast, with photographs by Shevaun Doherty.

Now that the first Bloom Exhibition of Botanical Art has been dismantled and much of it is on its way to Claregalway, I will give you all a quick–and very personal–impression of the occasion from the perspective of one who was fortunate to be asked to contribute.

The lead-up to the Bloom exhibition was a call to artists to submit paintings for inclusion. Rebecca Dunwoody was the initial exhibition co-ordinator. The judges were:

  • Brendan Sayers of the National Botanic Gardens
  • Belinda Northcote, a botanical artist who had an exhibition stand in the Crafts Council area of Bloom
  • Patricia Butler, historian of botanical art in Ireland.

The judges were looking for artistic merit and also botanical accuracy: with this in mind, those who did not make it this year are encouraged to try again next year.

For the exhibition itself, the paintings were wonderfully arranged by Lynn StringerHolly Somerville and Yanny Petters. The space was limited in size and yet they created a very effective and pleasing display of beautiful work.

Yanny Petters hangs a painting

Yanny gets to work

Holly Somerville hangs a painting

To the right a bit, Holly

An invitation from Bord Bia to attend the Botanical Art in Bloom Exhibition was sent to everyone and the launch was held on the afternoon of Sunday 26 May. It was a lovely gathering of artists, their families and friends, as well as representatives of Bord Bia, who have been very supportive throughout the whole venture. The exhibition was held in a room in the OPW Visitor Centre in the Phoenix Park: this popular meeting place is just beside a lovely lunch venue and would attract much interest through the whole period. The exhibition continued until 10 June.

Admiring the art

Opening day: admiring the art

Looking at art in the exhibition

Having a good look!

Bloom itself could be summed up, for me, as starting with a slightly shaky sensation of tripping over crowded plastic and aluminium pathways, hot stuffy tents and sensory overload, all combined with a permanent feeling of not quite knowing where you were on that strange little map of the tent village.  That was after you had queued to get into the car park, to get food and coffee and of course those queues for the porta-loos! That’s what happens when 80,000 people come to an enormous temporary show in a field in a park for a weekend.

By contrast, the Bloom Botanical art exhibition was a cool sanctuary housed within solid stone walls. The outstanding feature for me was the amazing range of gifted Irish botanical artists with such different styles and yet all accurately capturing the character of their chosen plant or flower. People were delighted to step into this relaxed calm space and chat and maybe purchase some cards or prints. The sale of paintings, despite the overwhelming interest, was not marvellous.

Artwork on display

Some of the artwork on display

Post mortem – Next year we will have to put much larger signage up around the show because I think many people did not know we were there. The opening of the exhibition is normally a very good opportunity to do some serious selling and this may be better on a weekday evening (say,Thursday) where serious collectors expect to be invited and maybe should be. With that said, it was a very impressive beginning for the ISBA exhibition calendar and a credit to everyone involved in its organisation. The responses in the guest book were very positive and many people were interested in going to workshops and classes. The many people I talked to were all very interested and enthusiastic about the formation, at last, of a botanical artists’ society in Ireland.

Gouache technique

This week’s blog – a tutorial in painting with gouache – comes from Claire Ward, and originally appeared on her own blog in 2011. A stunning example of her own work in gouache appears on her current blogpost at http://www.drawntopaintnature.blogspot.com/. Many thanks, Claire, for sharing this with us.


Hippeastrum bud in gouache


I had a request from a friend to explain my technique in gouache painting; so heres a tutorial showing my method.


I have Schminke artists quality, Winsor and Newton designers and a couple of old Daler Rowney goauche paints. The Schminkes and W/N’s are good quality with no white added and so are not chalky and can stay on the palette.The Dalers are chalky with white and fillers added; they form a hard lump on the palette and fall off – but I still have them – they’re OK to mix – some I don’t use.

I have Schminke PY3 Lemon Yellow
Schminke  PY119 & PBk 9 Raw Sienna
Schminke Burnt Sienna
Schminke PR101 English Red
Schminke PV19 Quinacridone Violet
Schminke PB27 Prussian Blue
Schminke PB29 Ultramarine
Schminke PB16 Helio Turquoise
Schminke PG36 & PO62 Sap Green
W/N PY35 & PO20 Cadmium Yellow
W/N PV23 Winsor Violet
W/N PR108 Cadmium Scarlet
W/N PR254 Winsor Red
W/N PR122 Quin. Magenta
DR Yellow Ochre
DR Burnt Sienna
DR Coeruleum Hue

I have mostly chosen paints with the same pigments as lightfast, transparent watercolours and are marked on the tubes as permanent; there are many fugitive gouache paints – and I stay away from those – like rose tyrian, spectrum violet and alizarin.


Heres the arranged palette – with the W/N white (PW6 – titanium white) and W/N ivory black top left. The white is added to lighten the hues and create highlights and the black (and other dark colours) are used to darken the tones. It is more difficult to get the right hues with the red and yellow paints. I use synthetic brushes around size 2 to 4 – or old sables that I no longer use for ordinary watercolours.

First of all I draw the chosen subject – an Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’, onto green mount card – you can use any colour card but it must be smooth.

tut 1

The drawing shows up in white pencil; then start adding layers of white and tinted grey paint.

tut 2tut 3Just keep going – layering the paint and blending in.

tut 4tut 5Then after adding shadows and highlights – start adding details – the best bit for me!

tut 7

Here’s the almost finished painting (you can keep fiddling!) shown with the original flower- it took approx. four-and-a-half hours to do this much.

tut 8

Heres a link to the Handprint website for a really in depth read up on gouache;

I hope this helps and inspires.  xx

Do have a look at Claire’s blog http://www.drawntopaintnature.blogspot.com/ and her website http://www.claireward.net/ to see lots more of her beautiful work.