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The Banks' Florilegium

Canavalia rosea from the Banks' FlorilegiumCanavalia rosea (detail) from
the Banks' Florilegium.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century florilegia, or records of the plants in a specific area, were commissioned by royalty and explorers. These included the Banks Florilegium,. The Banks’ Florilegium consists of 743 botanical line engravings, after the watercolors drawn from nature by Sydney Parkinson. The illustrations record the plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Carl Solander in Madeira, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, the Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Java on Captain James Cook’s first voyage round the world, 1768-1771.

Between 1771 and 1784 Banks hired 18 engravers to create the copperplate line engravings from the 743 completed watercolors at a considerable cost. The Florilegium was not printed in Banks’ lifetime and he bequeathed the plates to the British Museum. The first complete full-color edition of the Florilegium was published between 1980 and 1990 in 34 parts by Alecto Historical Editions and the British Museum. Only 100 sets were made available for sale, some on a subscription basis. Filoli is fortunate to have in its collection one of these complete sets. The plates were printed using a 17th century technique known as à la poupée where each color was applied directly to the plate; color accuracy was checked against Parkinson's notes and through consultation with the Museum's botanist, Chris Humphries. Each plate took from one week to two months to proof. New florilegium projects are underway worldwide. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Kew Gardens and the Sheffield Botanical Gardens in Sheffield, England all have florilegia underway. The newest completed florilegium is the Highgrove Florilegium.

Filoli is fortunate to be affiliated with The Florilegium Society of Sheffield Botanical Gardens.

More Information

Banks' Florilegium: The Flowering of the Pacific
A documentary recounting the journey and the publication of the Florilegium, released in 1984. It was narrated by Australian Robert Hughes.

The Flowering of the Pacific: Being an account of Joseph Banks' travels in the South Seas and the story of his Florilegium
A book on the subject by Brian Adams; published by the British Museum in 1986.