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Jean Bauhin

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Jean Bauhin’s Historia Plantarum Universalis (Yverdon, 1650).

‘The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth, and he that is wise will not abhor them.’

Ecclesiastes Chap. 38. v. 4, quoted on the title page of volume 2 of Bauhin’s Historia.

Jean Bauhin1

Johann Bauhin, Historia plantarum universalis (Yverdon, 1650), vol 1, title page.

The title page of the first volume of Jean (or Johann) Bauhin’s (1541-1613) encyclopaedic work on the history of botany depicts the author at the bottom left of the page. He is accompanied on the right by his son-in-law Johann Heinrich Cherler (1570-1610), who was also a keen botanist and who had collaborated with Bauhin on the Historia. Bauhin’s title page reads as a who’s who of botanical history. It provides the reader with a visual hierarchy of botanical knowledge in the late sixteenth century. At the top we find the ancient authorities of Theophrastus and Dioscorides, rapidly followed by Pliny and Galen. Moving further down we are shown Leonard Fuchs, Konrad Gesner and Jacques Daléchamps, significantly placed on the right. Bauhin had good relations with all three men: Gesner had been a major influence on Bauhin’s life and it was on Gesner’s advice that Bauhin had travelled to Tübingen to study with Fuchs and to Montpellier to study with Rondelet. Daléchamps likewise was connected with Bauhin for both men had set up a botanical garden together in Lyons in the 1560s.

On the left we find the more contentious triumvirate of Pietro Andrea Mattioli, Melchior Guilandino (1519 or 1520-1589) and Amato Lusitano (1511-1568). The accompanying ‘we dissent’ clearly alludes to the fact that both Guilandino and Lusitano had challenged Mattioli’s interpretations and Mattioli, who could not bear criticism, retaliated with vehement denunciations of the works of both men. (Indeed, as will be clear from the Gesner webpage, Gesner too fell foul of Mattioli). Beneath these venerable (and not so venerable) ancient and contemporary botanists, stand Bauhin and his son-in-law, lifting up the curtains on a garden scene, inviting the reader to join them ‘illustrating’ and ‘revealing’ plants. High above all this learned assembly is the Tetragrammaton, God as creator of all botanical specimens.

Jean Bauhin2

Johann Bauhin, Historia plantarum universalis (Yverdon, 1650), vol 2, title page.

Bauhin (1541-1613), who had been born in Basel after his family had been forced to flee religious persecution in France, was an elder brother of Caspar (Gaspard) Bauhin. Jean, considerably older than his brother, had been taught botany by Konrad Gesner and, like many other contemporary botanists, also benefited from a sojourn at the University of Montpellier. Webster (1970) notes that although it was sometimes thought that Jean acquired a medical degree there, there is no such citation in the graduation records for the university. With or without the degree, Jean practised as a physician, initially at Lyons and later at Geneva. His appointment as physician to Duke Frederick of Württemberg-Montbéliard (1557-1608) in 1571 enabled him to create botanical gardens at both Montbéliard and Stuttgart. He subsequently died at Montbéliard almost four hundred years ago in October1613.

Bauhin’s Historia is reminiscent of Konrad Gesner’s projected history of plants in a number of ways. Like Gesner’s work it was the result of many botanical journeys around Europe as well as copious correspondence with other botanists. In scale it superseded Gesner’s Historia plantarum by producing descriptions of over five thousand plants. Bauhin began compiling it late in life (c. 1600) and it was unpublished by the time of his death (Cherler had died three years before him). A summary of the work had been published by a physician at Yverdon, Dominic Chabrey (1610-1669), whose name is prominently displayed on the title page of volume two of the Historia. Chabrey had previously practised at Montbéliard and it likely that it was there he acquired the all-but finished manuscript. As the title page of volume two makes clear, it was due to Chabrey (who had the manuscript) and François Louis de Graffenried (who had the money), that the Historia was published in all its glory in 1650, some thirty seven years after Bauhin’s death.

Jean Bauhin3

Johann Bauhin, Historia plantarum universalis (Yverdon, 1650), vol 3, title page.

Bauhin’s title page for the third volume of the work reminds us of the importance of patronage in the rise of botanical research as a subject discipline in its own right. Many of the botanist-physicians whose works were collected by Worth were men like Bauhin, dependent on the patronage of nobles such as Duke Frederick, to finance their research trips and gardens. Editors and publishers like Chabrey and de Graffenried also had to keep an eye on patronage networks and we see this very clearly in the case of Bauhin’s Historia. Volume one had been dedicated to two men with links to Switzerland, François Louis Erlach, Baron of Spietz and Nicholas Dachsel-Hoffer. Volume two was dedicated to Henri II d’Orléans, duc de Longueville (1595-1663), who may be the subject of the cameo at the top of the page. Like the previous dedicatees, Henri II d’Orléans also had Swiss links: as Prince of Neuchâtel, one of the French speaking cantons, he had championed the cantons against the Holy Roman Empire. Volume three was dedicated to the Swiss cantons themselves and we can see their coats of arms on the title page.


Palmer, Richard (1985), ‘Medical botany in northern Italy in the Renaissance’ in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine vol 78, pp. 149-157.

Webster, Charles (1970), ‘Bauhin, Jean’ in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York), vol I, pp. 525-527.

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