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Florilegium Imperiale Book Review

“Florilegium Imperiale-Botanical Illustrations for Francis I of Austria” by H. Walter Lack was released by Prestel. This will be of particular interest to cacti and succulent lovers.

Francis I was the Emperor of Austria as well as the last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Born in 1768, he grew up in Florence and moved to Vienna when he was 16. From an early age, he developed a love of gardening and plants, which continued until his death in 1835.

The author does something no one has accomplished before by presenting the Emperor’s role in the botanical world. Readers can experience the imperial gardens and greenhouses through this book.

As the author deftly explains, the Emperor was a patron of botany. The book provides an in-depth biography of the Emperor, emphasizing his love of gardening and his interest in the natural world.

Francis I had his own herbarium, and built a vast collection of rare botany books and art featuring plants and flowers. His interest in botanical art blossomed, and had a lasting effect. This eventually led to a Chair of Flower Painting at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The Emperor had a vast collection of large-format botanical watercolors known as a florilegium for which this book is named. The author provides insight and background on the artists and their works.

The author also provides a complete history of the imperial gardens and greenhouses through the years. These chapters include garden plans and illustrations as well as color photos. This title explains how the entire family used the gardens. The Emperor took a hands-on approach to gardening, and spent several hours a day in the garden with the garden staff. He wore a special gardening outfit and even had his own gardening tools.

One chapter gives the background on Francis I’s role in botanical art. Over the years, the imperial family employed leading artists of the day to document the plants found in the gardens and greenhouses.

This book also explains about the plant expeditions that provided many rare plants for the imperial gardens and greenhouses.

A concluding chapter looks at the gardens today.

This remarkable book features 120 full page plates by Mathias Schmutzer. These were done between 1794 and 1824. The plates feature a number of cacti and succulents. These beautiful watercolors depict aloes, euphorbias, aeoniums, stapelias, fockea, disocactus, mammillarias, and agaves.


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