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John Sibthorp, Shirley Atchley and Constantine Goulimis

by John Rendall

For the full article see The Mediterranean Garden No 50, October 2007.

One of the treats of the AGM 2007 in Athens will be a visit to the library at the Goulandris Natural History Museum. John Rendall describes the history of some of the rare books which will be on display. Pictured below are a few of the plates from Sibthorp’s Flora Graeca; two of the original ten volumes are in the library.

John Rendall writes:
“John Sibthorp (1758-1796) must take pride of place as the originator of the modern treatment of the Greek flora. Sibthorp, who succeeded his father Humphrey Waldo Sibthorp as Sherardian Professor of Botany at Oxford, studied medicine and botany at Oxford, Edinburgh, Paris and Montpellier.  In Vienna, where he travelled in 1785 to examine the Codex Vindobonensis he was introduced to a young artist named Ferdinand Bauer, whom he persuaded to accompany him on his ensuing expedition to Greece and the Levant. Sibthorp subsequently made a second visit to this area in 1794-1795. During the course of it he contracted the illness, usually identified as tuberculosis, from which he died a few months after returning to England.
Sibthorp’s ten-volume Flora Graeca, superbly illustrated by Ferdinand Bauer, took 54 years to produce, the last volume appearing in 1840. Bauer remained behind in Oxford working on the illustrations from the specimens already collected when Sibthorp set out on his last expedition. During his travels with Sibthorp Bauer had no time to complete his illustrations on the spot, so instead made detailed pencil drawings which he annotated with numbers from a colour code that he had developed. His meticulous drawing of Cyclamen persicum, for example, exhibited at the Bodleian Library in Oxford in 1999, shows colour code numbers ranging from 4 to 302. His illustrations for the Flora Graeca deservedly won for him the title of the Leonardo of natural history illustration.
The Flora Graeca was financed by pre-publication subscriptions of 12 guineas. Only 25 copies were printed and such was the price that the British Museum went to court to secure the free copy that was their traditional entitlement – and lost. The library of the Goulandris Natural History Museum in Athens has two of the original ten volumes in its safekeeping and members attending the Annual General Meeting of the MGS in November will be able to inspect these priceless books.”

Frontispiece for Volume Six ‘Athenae’ with an illustration
by Ferdinand Bauer showing the Parthenon.

Acanthus spinosus – coloured engraving based on a
drawing by Ferdinand Bauer

Digitalis ferruginca – coloured engraving based on a
drawing by Ferdinand Bauer

Lupinus pilosis – coloured engraving based on a
drawing by Ferdinand Bauer
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