Herbals are botanical texts that, as well as describing individual species ("simple" species with medicinal properties), are often accompanied by illustrations, which in some cases also have outstanding artistic value. It is not easy to establish a date for the first herbals. We can only assume that they originated in response to a need felt by doctors and scholars even in the ancient world. Only with the invention of the printing press however, do the herbals become wondrous objects of medical and botanical art and culture. The book Erbari by Agnes Arber, originally published in 1912, but largely revised in the subsequent decades, describes the most important work in this field, particularly in the period from 1470 to 1670, when botanics distinguished itself from herbology as a true scientific discipline.
This work arose from the author’s deep familiarity with the volumes printed in a period that was crucial to the history of knowledge about the natural world, running from the last decades of the 15th century to the mid-17th century, when herbalists relinquished the field of study to botanists and thereby allowed plant science to be progressively modernised through a series of attempts at classification and forays into plant anatomy. At the beginning of the 16th century, the study of the natural world was being transformed into a conceptual and professional discipline, and botanists as well as some artists, particularly those of great talent who could assist in the depiction of plants, were responsible for a fundamental cultural shift. This publication aims to bridge the enormous cultural gap and offer its Italian readership, both students of the history of science as well as botany enthusiasts, an important and now classic work.
Agnes Robertson Arber (1879-1960) was one of the leading botanical scholars of the 20th century. She dedicated her study and research not only to botany, but also to plant morphology, biology, the history of botany and the philosophy of science. She studied at Cambridge where she received her doctorate in Natural Sciences in 1905. In 1946, she was nominated as Fellow of the Royal Society, the first woman to be granted the post. She received the Linnean Society gold medal for her contribution to botany. Among her most memorable works are Monocotyledons (1925), The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form (1950), and The Mind and the Eye (1954).