Artists have been expressing their love for botanical plants by drawing and painting them for centuries. The earliest depiction of botanical plants was found in Mesopotamia and Egypt about four thousand years ago, where highly developed agricultural civilizations showcased images of plants and flowers on the walls of their temples and tombs. While those illustrations involved realistic botanical imagery to portray a part of that time period, subsequent botanical art in the Cretan, Greek, and Roman eras included botanical decorations of coins or ceramics that contained less realism.
The spark of botanical art initially spread throughout Europe due to the practice of herbal medicine. During the Grecian time period, Aristotle and his friend Theophrastus were the first ones recorded to study botany, and their findings were later found with colored botanical illustrations to accompany their texts. Perhaps one of the most highly valued pieces of botanical art exists today in the oldest surviving illustrated manuscript, the Codex Vindebonesis dated from 512 AD. A magnificent example of botanical illustrations, this manuscript displays a large drawing of a plant designed with exceptional naturalism.
Many of the early voyages between Europe and Australia greatly influenced the naturalistic style of botanical illustrations. The first voyage that inspired watercolor art of botanical plants and flowers was with Captain James Cook’s Pacific expedition on the merchant ship, Endeavor. There, artists Sydney Parkinson, Fredrick Miller, and Frederick Polydore Nodder, sketched illustrations of botanical plants to document their experience. Their botanical illustrations can be seen by several British natural history museums of today.
These days, Australia doesn’t just hold their beloved botanical artwork in museums. Instead, each native plant and flower is illustrated throughout art galleries and even placed on postage stamps. Some common examples of stamp illustrations include the Eucalyptus caesia, a tree with silver stems, green leafs, and pink flowers when in bloom, and a Melaleuca lanceolata which appears as a small Black Tea tree. Australia’s national flower, the Wattle, has inspired sheet music, literature, and even a book of botanical photography established by A.J. Campbell in 1921. A number of Australian native plants have become signified as “Christmas plants” in various parts of Australia. Although these plants are not directly related to the Christmas season, they are usually reflected in their local “common names”, such as Christmas Bells, Christmas Bush, Christmas Orchid, and Christmas Tree. No matter where you turn, native Australian botanical plants and flowers somehow contributes to modern day art.
Botanical art has come a long way in Australia. Currently, several botanical illustrations depict Australian native food plants, edible plants and seeds, palms, and culinary fruits. From the origins of realism, to the immigration of naturalism, contemporary botanical art includes multiple thematic elements to catch the viewer’s eye. Plants and flowers are now captured artistically through all mediums of work, including water color painting, sketches, colored pencil drawings, photographs, and digitally designed figures. With the enhancement of technology and a skill set of various artistic abilities, it’s possible for artists of today to perfectly capture native Australian plants and flowers.