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Caspar Bauhin

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Caspar Bauhin


Pietro Andrea Mattioli, Opera quæ extant omnia : hoc est, Commentarij in VI. libros Pedacij Dioscoridis Anazarbei de medica materia (Basle, 1598), Sig 2*6v, portrait of Caspar Bauhin.

Caspar Bauhin ( 1560- 1624), the younger of the two famous botanist Bauhin brothers was, like his brother Jean, born in Switzerland after their father, the French physician, Jean Bauhin the Elder (1511-1582), had been forced to flee France on becoming calvinist. Caspar not only studied in Basle but in all the important medical centres of the time: Padua, Bologna, Montpellier, Paris and Tübingen, where, like his brother, he studied with Fuchs. On his return to Basle following his father’s ill-health he studied and qualified under Felix Platter (1536-1614). Bauhin taught anatomy and botany at Basle and became Professor of Medicine on Platter’s death in 1614.

The full titles of Bauhin’s two main botanical works published in his lifetime, the Prodromos Theatri Botanici of 1620 and the Pinax Theatri Botanici of 1623 were an undoubted reference to Theodor Zwinger’s renowned compilation of human behaviour, the Theatrum vitae humanae, published in Basle in various editions between 1565 and 1604. These works reflected Bauhin’s ambition to classify the wealth of plant material then becoming available. In his Prodromos, he includes the descriptions of 600 new previously unidentified plants arranged in twelve books with 138 illustrations. This book is addressed ‘Ad Medicinae Studiosos’ (‘studiosus’ according to Ogilvie (2006, p.54), meant ‘devoted to’ rather than a student), on the verso of the title page, thus reflecting the importance of botany in the medical armamentarium.


Caspar Bauhin, Prodromoc theatri botanici (Basle, 1671), p. 92, Hyoscyamus.

Though the book is primarily concerned with botanical descriptions and not medicinal uses, nonetheless many of plants illustrated are medically important. Hyoscyamus Creticus luteus major, called by Linnaeus Hyoscyamus aurea, is an image of a species of the poisonous medicinal plant Henbane. The image shows the whole plant and a separate figure at the side shows the upturned bell-like flower and its seeds.  The descriptions start with the root, then the stem, leaves and finally flower. As Ogilvie (2006) points out, most of the plants in the Prodromos were described from herbarium samples which either Bauhin had himself or had been sent to him by his extensive network of correspondents. He often adds a brief description of where it grew and who had sent it to him, noting in relation to the Rapistrum monospermom, pictured near the end of this page, that the seed had been sent to him by Doldius and had grown in the garden of Zwinger and flowered in the month of May.


Caspar Bauhin, Pinax theatri botanici (Basle, 1671), p. 169, Hyoscyamus.

Three years later in his Pinax (1623) Bauhin organised around 6000 plants and their synonyms into genera. As with the Prodromos, the book is divided into 12 books starting with grasses and finishing with trees. To do this, he again made use of his herbarium of about 4000 plants. He also had access to Felix Platter’s herbarium.  According to Ogilvie (p.173), many botanists added as many of the names they could to their herbarium specimen sheets. Ogilvie, cites one sheet from Caspar Ratzenburger’s herbarium who had added eleven names, seven of which were common names, a practice analogous to the name annotations added to the Worth Fuchs. Bauhin also used an extensive collection of botanic authors to derive all the synonyms. These authors are listed in a seven-page section at the beginning of the book followed by a list of those whose who had sent him material.


Caspar Bauhin, Prodromoc theatri botanici (Basle, 1671), p. 37, Rapistrum monospermon.

Bauhin’s Pinax, although widely used throughout Europe down to the last third of the eighteenth century, particularly in naming plants in Pharmacopoeias, was inferior to Cesaplino’s in terms of classification. Vines (1913), describes it as haphazard, with many plants of the same families scattered through the twelve books. Two of the plants taken from the Prodromus featured here, Rapistrum monospermom (Rapistrum perenne) and Thalspi villosum capsulis hirsutis (Lepidium hirtum) are correctly placed as closely related in the Pinax (Book III), both being members of the Brassicaceae family. On the other hand, the Henbane, Hyoscyamus Creticus luteus major is grouped with Mandragora and Nicotiana in the same book and page (Book V, p169) with Solanum on the preceding page, all of which are medicinal or poisonous members of the Solanaceae family, but the plant group on the next page is the Papaver a member of the Papaveraceae family (to which the Opium Poppy belongs). This suggests that in this instance, the grouping may have been at least in part influenced by medicinal rather than botanical reasons.


Caspar Bauhin, Prodromoc theatri botanici (Basle, 1671), p. 47, Thlaspi.

A new generation of naturalists from the mid seventeenth century onwards, notably Morison, Ray and Tournefort returned to the heritage of Cesalpino and developed classifications which expanded his work. However, Linnaeus, when he came to produce his Species Plantarum used the Pinax extensively despite the fact that it had no illustrations, because of its widespread use in Europe. In addition he had access to his colleague Joachim Burser’s (1583-1639) large herbarium which was organised and named using Bauhin’s principles. Linnaeus’s own copy of the Pinax, which he was given in payment for botany lessons given to a fellow student in Uppsala in 1730, contains over 300 annotations.

Of interest, the Worth copy of the Prodromos originally belonged to Tournefort who was given it as gift by a physician on his return to Montpellier in 1681, an example of the interconnections between past and future studiosi res herbariae.


Arber, Agnes (1953), Herbals: their origin and Evolution. A chapter in the History of botany 1470-1670 (Cambridge University Press).

Blair, A. M (2010) Too Much to Know Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (Yale University Press, New Haven and London ).

Jarvis, C. (2007), Order out of Chaos Linnean Plant names and their Types (The Linnaean Society of London in Association with the Natural History Museum, London ).

Linnaeus, C (1753) Species Plantarum (Stockholm).

Ogilvie, B. W. (2006), The Science of Describing (Chigaco University Press).

Vines, S. H. (1913), ‘Robert Morison 1620-1683 and John Ray1627-1705’ in Makers of British Botany A Collection of Biographies by Living Botanists edited by F. W.  Oliver (Cambridge University Press).

Zomlefer, W. B. (1994) Guide to Flowering Plant Families (The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and London).

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