A monumental work for the natural riches of Greece
The Flora Graeca, a book about the hidden treasures of Greek flora, reflects the richness and diversity of the natural world of the Mediterranean. In the late 18th century the often forgotten beauty of the natural environment that surrounds us, prompted John Sithorp, young professor of botany at the University of Oxford, to explore Greece in order to create a monumental botanical “Bible.” The majestic ten volumes of the “Flora Graeca” contain 966 watercolors drawn by the superb Austrian artist Ferdinand Bauer.
Often called the rarest and most precious scientific book of botany, the Flora Graeca was the product of travels through Ottoman Greece. In his expedition through Ottoman Greece, a region still remote for Western Europeans, Sibthorp explored for the first time in a scientific way unknown plant species or plants recorded only in the ancient narratives of Homer, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Dioscorides and others. The project not only claimed the life of Sibthorp himself, owing to the hardships and infectious diseases of the Greek countryside, but also the entire estate of this wealthy English botanist, as its publication took 34 years to complete (1806-1840).
The exhibition “reveals” the Flora Graeca to the general public
How many people know this charming story? How many of us realize the great importance of a region’s flora for our country, the Mediterranean, and the entire world?
The exhibition is dedicated to John Sibthorp, the Flora Graeca and the richness of the Greek flora with the purpose of disseminating the fascinating history of Sibthorp’s travels, imparting to viewers his love for the natural beauty that surrounds us and his understanding of the delicate balance between man and nature. Based on the majestic images that Ferdinand Bauer designed for the Flora Graeca, the show also showcases the intricacies of botanical painting, which combines scientific accuracy and artistic merit with complex aesthetic preoccupations.
The historical evolution of botanical studies from the ancient texts of Theophrastus and Dioscorides and medieval conceptions about the magical power of herbs to the exploration of Greece by naturalists and herbalists in the early modern period is presented through rare editions of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The expeditions of Sibthorp, based on the scientific innovations of his forefathers, Tournefort and Linnaeus (who were responsible for the collection of specimens, taxonomy, and description of plants), and the flood of new plants into herbaria and botanical gardens of Holland, England and France, had an enormous impact on the European landscape. The role played by Greek flora deserves to be better known. The development of natural history and botany in Greece during the period of the Greek Enlightenment and the 19th century science is highlighted by unique treasures of the Gennadius Library such as a manuscript collection of remedies (iatrosophia) and a wonderful album with depictions of the flora of Corfu.
The material from the natural history collections of the Gennadius Library is juxtaposed with plant specimens from the herbaria of the Goulandris Museum of Natural History and of the University of Athens, works of art by Niki Goulandris and Ilias Lalaounis, an Hermès silk scarf, as well as material from the historical archive of the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation.
Events such as tours, lectures, roundtable discussions as well as multiple initiatives in the media and social networks will raise public awareness and promote a responsible and active attitude of respect towards and protection of our natural environment.
The exhibition will be on view from March 8 to June 30, 2016.