A Curious Herbal
In the 1730s, Elizabeth Blackwell (1699–c. 1758) found herself penniless, with her ne’er-do-well husband confined to a London debtor’s prison. A talented artist, she came up with a unique and ambitious moneymaking scheme: the publication of a new illustrated guide to medicinal plants, including many New World species not depicted in earlier books. Blackwell’s Curious Herbal, published between 1737 and 1739, was hailed for its usefulness to doctors and apothecaries and met with considerable financial success.
This magnificent volume—the first modern edition of Blackwell’s herbal—reproduces all five hundred of her exquisite plates. Blackwell not only made the drawings, but prepared the copper plates and personally hand-colored them. Her handwritten descriptions of the plants, which she creatively adapted (with permission) from Joseph Miller’s Botanicum Officinale, retain considerable interest. This book features a previously unknown preface by Blackwell, in which she reveals her passion for art and nature, and her vision for the herbal. Two introductory texts contextualize Blackwell’s achievement: the noted garden writer Marta McDowell explores the history of herbals as a genre, and the state of botanical knowledge in Blackwell’s time; and the historian Janet Stiles Tyson relates the artist’s rather extraordinary biography.
A Curious Herbal will be essential for all lovers of botanical art, and for anyone interested in women’s history and the history of science. This hardbound book measures 13 1/4 x 8 inches and has 576 pages.