I-50. Six Hundred Years of Botanical Illustration

Peter Crane Roger Gaskell Amy Meyers

Course Length: 26 hours
Course Week: 18–22 July 2022
Format: in person, Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Upperville, VA
Tuition: $1,185
Housing & food: $800*

The course will survey the production of botanical art and illustration from the late medieval period to modern times, exploiting the outstanding collection of drawings and illustrated books held in the Oak Spring Garden Library. Manuscript codices, plant portraits and albums will be studied, as well as herbals, florilegia, and spectacular color plate books. The construction of botanical images from field sketches to finished drawings will be described and students will learn to identify the main processes of print making and the reproduction of images. The scientific content of botanical illustration will be explained. Botanical drawing will be demonstrated and students will make their own sketches. We will discuss the purpose and audience for finished drawings, the economics of printing and publishing, and the market for illustrated botanical books.

The critical roles of botanical art and botanical books will be discussed in terms of colonial and imperial ambitions: plant hunting for medicines and commercial crops and the enrichment of gardens for the nourishment of body and soul. We will show the contributions of Indigenous artists to European books, and look at some East Asian botanical art and book production in addition to European book production.

The involvement of women is of particular importance in the creation of botanical art and illustration, and its consumption. Paying attention to the participation of women not only redresses the imbalances in the historical narrative but also requires us to analyse the books we study not in terms of singular authors and illustrators but as the products of multiple agents, both acknowledged and hidden.

The spaces and collections at Oak Spring Garden Library lend themselves to a fully integrated teaching experience combining slide presentations, demonstrations, and student exercises, together with close examination of drawings, printing plates and blocks, and printed books. The library contains original drawings by many of the leading botanical artists from the sixteenth century to the present day and some of the finest copies of the great herbals, florilegia, and botanical atlases.

*This is a fully residential course, a unique opportunity to stay on the Oak Spring Garden site, explore the gardens and grounds, work in the beautifully furnished private library built for Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, and learn from fellow students and the internationally acclaimed instructors. There are two fees associated with this course: tuition ($1,185), and housing and food ($800). Owing to the lack of other nearby accommodations and the nature of the arrangements with this private institution, both fees are required to participate in this course. The latter covers the cost of staying in on-site accommodations of well-appointed single rooms with en suite baths, and of dining at Oak Spring. Three meals and refreshment breaks each day are included in the cost. Scholarship and fellowship tuition waivers cover the cost of tuition; these tuition waivers do not extend to include the $800 fee for housing and food.

The course should be of interest to academics (at the Ph.D. candidate level and above); independent scholars; botanical artists; curators and collectors. There are no specific entry requirements, but in their personal statements applicants should describe their background knowledge in areas covered by the course.

Course Instruction

This course is cotaught by Sir Peter Crane, Roger Gaskell, and Amy R. W. Meyers. They are joined by guest lecturers Lara Call Gastinger and Megan McNamee. 

Peter Crane, president of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, will speak on the botany of botanical illustration.

Roger Gaskell is the course convenor and instructor for printed books, bibliography, and print making processes. Roger is an antiquarian bookseller specialising in the history of science, medicine and technology and an expert on book illustration processes.

Lara Call Gastinger is a botanical artist and was the lead illustrator for the Flora of Virginia (2012) and will demonstrate botanical drawing and lead students in a botanical drawing exercise.

Megan McNamee, lecturer in pre-modern art 500–1500 at the University of Edinburgh, will give a special guest lecture on the description of plants in image and text before print and lead the examination of medieval herbals and books of hours.

Amy Meyers, formerly director of the Yale Center for British Art, will give a seminar on botanical art in its cultural context and lead discussions and examination of botanical paintings and books.

Course History

Sir Peter Crane, Roger Gaskell, and Amy Meyers co-teach this course.


  • Peter Crane
  • Roger Gaskell
  • Amy Meyers

Peter Crane

Sir Peter Crane, FRS is President of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Virginia (osgf.org), an estate of Rachel Lambert Mellon that includes an exquisite garden, as well as an exceptional library focused on the history of plant science, plant exploration, and the development of gardens and landscape design. He is known internationally for his work on the diversity of plant life—its origin, fossil history, current status, conservation, and use.

Peter Crane was elected to the Royal Society (the U.K. academy of sciences) in 1998 and was knighted in the U.K. for services to horticulture and conservation in 2004. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and a Member of the German Academy Leopoldina.  He is the recipient of several honorary degrees from universities in the U.S. and U.K., including an honorary doctorate of science from each of the following institutions: the University of Connecticut and Sewanee: The University of the South, both in the U.S., and Cambridge University in the U.K. He received the International Prize for Biology in December 2014.

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Roger Gaskell

Roger Gaskell is an antiquarian bookseller specializing in scientific medical and technical books, and enjoys working closely with academic libraries in the U.K. and the U.S. He has taught seminars in book history and scientific illustration at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He has served as a council member of the Bibliographical Society (U.K.).

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Amy Meyers

Amy Meyers (Yale Ph.D., American Studies, 1985) retired from the directorship of the Yale Center for British Art in June of 2019. Prior to her appointment in July of 2002, she spent much of her career at research institutes, including Dumbarton Oaks; the Center for Advanced Study in Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, where she served as Curator of American Art from 1988 through June of 2002. Meyers has written extensively on the visual and material culture of natural history in the transatlantic world, serving as editor of Knowing Nature: Art and Science in Philadelphia,1740 to 1840 (Yale University Press, 2011, with the assistance of Lisa Ford). She also has edited, with Harold Cook and Pamela Smith, Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge(University of Michigan Press, 2011); with Therese O’Malley, The Art of Natural History: Illustrated Treatises and Botanical Paintings, 1400–1850 (National Gallery of Art, Studies in The History of Art Series, 2008); Art and Science in America: Issues of Representation (The Huntington, 1998); and, with Margaret Pritchard, Empire’s Nature: Mark Catesby’s New World Vision (University of North Carolina Press, 1998). With Therese O’Malley, Meyers currently is organizing an exhibition with the working title of William Bartram and the Origins of American Environmental Thought. The project will bring together for the first time a wide selection of Bartram’s extraordinary drawings to examine his integrated view of nature and the emergence of environmental thought in North America, from the colonial period through the first decades of the republic.

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