Gart der Gesundheidt (Garden of Health) | Hortus sanitates


Gart der Gesundheidt (Garden of Health) | Hortus sanitates

German (Mainz), 1485

ink, woodcut illustrations colored by hand

height 30 cm

University of Oregon Library, Special Collections and University Archives
Edward Burgess Early Printed Book Collection, Ms 109


Matthew Hornback, Medieval Portland Capstone Student, 2012

Peter Schӧffer's second printed herbal, a botanical manual titled Der Gart Der Gesundeyt, (also known as the Garden of Health and the Ortus Sanitatus) dates to 1485 Mainz. It is often confused with the Herbarius (1484) or the Hortus Sanitatis (1491), though it is a distinct work.

Inspired by the success of his first printed botanical of 1484, Herbarius, Schӧffer's printing of Der Gart was a commercial undertaking.[1] Johannes Wohnecke and artist Erhard Rewich were commissioned by the wealthy Bernhard von Breidenbach to compose Der Gart The preface tells of the "noble work" of the pilgrimage[2], and of Breidenbach's desire to benefit not only his soul but "the whole world" [3] by coupling pilgrimage and botanical expedition, so as to view firsthand the plants that were the gifts of God to his suffering people.[4]

Purportedly having travelled to the Middle East, Mediterranean, East Europe, and Northern Africa in pursuit of living specimens, the three voyagers obtained imagery whose realism far surpassed that of the botanical illustrations that had come before it.[5] For centuries before Der Gart, the chief sources of plant imagery in herbals were depictions borrowed from other herbals, not living specimens.[6] Rather than recopy antiquated portraits, Der Gart made an indelible impression in the repertoire of German incunabula by transforming first-hand botanical observations into printed media via skillfully-crafted woodcuts, thereby becoming the standard of herbals for the next half century.[7]

Over 300 woodcuts were crafted to allow reproduction of the images which required a transfer from paint or sketch to printable medium. In this process the artist-designer would trace the diagram on a wood plank and carve around the lines, leaving the drawing in relief.[8] Since the resultant printed portraits were formed via a stamping method, any addition of color would have to be done by hand, as is observed in the Burgess piece.

Without both text and image, plant identification by the reader was uncertain, since nomenclature had not yet been standardized. Moveable type and woodcut plates allowed for the juxtaposition of text and image, as well as quick duplication. The diagrams provided an artistic touch for the reader (and printer), and served as an additional authority in identifying each herb.[9] The exactness in replication that resulted paved the way not only for the standardization of botanical texts but arguably for the "manufacture [of] science" itself.[10]

The price of books fell greatly due to advances in printing efficiency, paper production technologies and competition at the close of the 15th century which led to there was a great increase in the number of books purchased per literate person, as well as an increased desire for (and availability of) literacy itself.[11] Indeed, by 1500, nearly one in ten Germans was literate,[12] despite the fact that the standard of living for the majority of the population had not increased.[13] It was from this context that Breidenbach sought to make his compilation of value not only to scholars and physicians, but also to laypersons. Thus, instead of being written in Latin or Greek like many earlier medical and herbal texts, Der Gart is written in the German tongue.[14]

15th-century books were often sold unbound,[15] allowing for later rubrication - the addition of manuscript pages - and image coloration. It was not uncommon for buyers to have specific demands with respect to binding, some preferring affordability over aesthetics, and others insisting that their bound volume be an illustrious reflection of their social status. Each nuance appears in the Burgess piece, which had probably been cheaply bound by its later owner – a binding whose spine has long since disintegrated.

The Burgess 109 Der Gart contains 309 original leaves, and an additional 24 manuscript pages that had been hand-copied from the 1486 edition published by Johann Schӧnsperger of Augsburg. There are 27 missing pages, making the edition incomplete, as well as several blank pages, perhaps having been included for future note-taking.[16] The woodcuts have been hand-colored. The pages were printed in a variety of formats, images having been inserted between text columns, below text, or with text on either side. In one section Schӧffer appears to have inserted an image sideways, perhaps to facilitate a more efficient use of paper or to adhere to a rigid organizational format. Each section is headed with a large and elegantly rubricated capital letter, one of which even carries onto the margin forming a floral border.

True to the more modern notion of herbal medicine as being "holistic" or "alternative," Der Gart follows suit, as did most herbals of the time, including not only more allopathic diagnostic indicators and dosage recommendations, but also the astrological and folk significance of particular specimens. In his preface, Briedenbach writes of the four elements whose bodily imbalances lead "into sickness, and draws nigh unto death."[17] It was believed that each of the 435 specimens – 368 dealing with medicinal plants, and the rest involving animal, mineral, and other substances of medicinal interest – served as an aid in bringing the body back into balance with one or more of these four elements.[18] Indeed, this was sought after information among physicians, whose worldview took into account the heavens as well as the herbal Doctrine of Signatures.[19]

[1] Keil, Gundolf. "Hortus Sanitatis, Gard der Gesundheit, Gaerde der Sunthede," in Medieval Gardens. Edited by Elisabeth B. Macdougall. (Washington, D.C.: Meriden-Stinehour Press, 1986), 59.
Hellmut, Lehmann-Haupt, Peter Schoeffer, (Rochester: The Printing House of Leo Hart, 1950), 55.
[2] Blunt, Wilfrid, The Art of Botanical Illustration, (London: Collins, 1950), 35.
[3] Blunt, The Art of Botanical Illustration, 35.
[4] Agnes Arber, Herbals: Their Origin and Evolution - A Chapter in the History of Botany, 1470-1670, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912), 24.
[5] Keil, Hortus Sanitatis, 63.
[6] Flowers in Books and Drawings, ca. 940-1840, (New York: The Pierpoint Morgan Library, 1980), Introduction.
[7] Joseph Payne, On the Herbarius and Hortus Sanitatis: A Paper Read Before the Bibliographical Society, (London: Blades, East & Blades, 1901), 39.
[8] Portland Art Museum (Or.), and William H. Givler. 1976. Masterworks in wood: the woodcut print from the 15th to the early 20th century. (Portland, Or: Portland Art Association), introduction.
[9] Siraisi, Nancy. Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, an Introduction to Knowledge and Practice. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.
[10] Reeds, Karen. "Leonardo da Vinci and botanical illustration: nature prints, drawings, and woodcuts ca. 1500," in AVISTA Studies in the History of Medieval Technologies, Science and Art. Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550. Vol. 5. Edited by Jean A. Givens, Karen M. Reeds, Alain Touwaide. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006), 243.
[11] Buringh, Eltjo, and Jan Luiten Van Zanden. "Charting the ‘Rise of the West’: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries." Journal of Economic History. 69. no. 2 (2009): 409-445.
[12] Buringh et al., p. 434.
[13] Buringh et al., p. 441.
[14] Arber, Herbals, 26.
[15] Buhler, Curt, The Fifteenth Century Book: The Scribes, The Printers, The Decorators, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvaina Press, 1960), 79-81.
[16] University of Oregon Library Special Collections, Accessed July 17, 2012. .
[17] Arber, Herbals, 24.
[18] Arber, Herbals, 23-26.
[19] Nutton, Vivian. "Medicine at the German Universities, 1348-1500: A Preliminary Sketch," in History of Medicine in Context. Medicine from the Black Death to the French Disease. Edited by Roger French, Jon Arrizabalaga, Andrew Cunningham, Luis Garcia-Ballester. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1988), 95.


Diebold, William. The Illustrated Book in the Age of Printing: Books and Manuscripts from Oregon Collections. Portland, OR: Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, 1993, cat no. 22, pp. 24-25 - Quoted with permission

These two books [reference applies to exhibit from which this text was originally a catalog entry] illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of entrepreneurial innovation in the printing of early illustrated books. Guides to the medicinal uses of herbs were common and popular in the Middle Ages, so it was not surprising that printers would consider printing them. To be useful, however, the herbal needed to depict a large number of plants, a major undertaking. For the hundreds of illustrations in this book Peter Schoffer commissioned the design and cutting of wood blocks. Many of the designs established a new level of accuracy in their naturalism, in part because their designer, not content with hearsay knowledge, journeyed to the Middle East to examine unfamiliar plants. According to Ivins, “The Gart der Gesundheit is thus the first printed illustrated account of the results of a journey undertaken with scientific purposes in mind.”

Given the herbal's importance as a text, Schoffer, Gutenberg's former assistant, one of the most successful printers of his day, and a smart and conservative businessman who rarely ventured into illustrated printing, had every expectation of reaping significant rewards for his outlay of capital. The fifteenth century, however, had neither modern copyright laws nor scruples about plagiarism. And precisely the widespread distribution of books brought about by printing made it difficult to keep pictorial or textual innovation private for long. Schoffer's herbal was pirated in the very year it was printed. The next year, this pirate edition was in its turn copied by a rival printer. Apparently, Schoffer did not care to compete in such a vicious market, for he sold the blocks for the herbal illustrations to a Basel printer.