In 2008 the canon of prestigious, beautifully illustrated botanical and horticultural literature, was enriched by the publication of one of the most sumptuous books of the Twenty First Century – the Highgrove Florilegium. Another title, celebrating the importance of plants and highlighting the need to conserve them, now joins this list. Utilizing the exceptional talents of some of the finest contemporary botanical artists the Transylvania Florilegium illuminates the richness and diversity of the plant life found in the grasslands and woodlands of this important region of Romania.

The Transylvania Florilegium was the idea of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. The project has been organised under the supervision of The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation in conjunction with Addison Publications and a succession of teams of botanical artists, all supported by individual botanists, curators and people involved in craft book production. Royalties from the publication will support the work of The Prince of Wales’s Charitable  Foundation which includes among its subsidiaries The Prince of Wales’s Foundation Romania.

Work to create the Transylvania Florilegium began in 2012 when the first group of artists visited The Prince of Wales’s two properties in Transylvania. Over five years further groups of artists have visited for two weeks at different times in the year and recorded a selection of the flowering plants they observed. Each artist painted up to six plants and offered them for selection as part of the final work. In the florilegium information about each plant accompanies every painting.

Various guides and checklists of Romanian plants have been produced in the last 150 years but none are so skilfully and beautifully illustrated  as the Transylvania Florilegium. A work of the highest quality, devoted to the plants of this region, has until now been lacking. This may have been a contributing factor to why the richness of the Transylvanian flora, which is at risk of being lost due to changes in farming practice and other environmental pressures, has not been more widely appreciated. In the farming of his estates and support  of charities working in the region, The Prince of Wales seeks to help protect the native flora. The volumes of the Transylvania Florilegium will raise awareness of the diversity and beauty of the Transylvanian flora and inspire people to assist in its preservation.

The Florilegium Tradition

CreatIng Images of plants to show their characteristics, properties and uses can be traced back over two thousand years. People have always wanted to understand what plants could be used for and to pass on this knowledge. Since the late sixteenth century, an illustrated book designed to display and aid the identification of plants has generally been referred to as a florilegium – essentially, a book of flower pictures. The Transylvania Florilegium continues a long tradition of recording in paintings the plants found in a particular country, area or garden. The first book to use the term, as we apply it today, is the work entitled simply Florilegium by the Flemish engraver Adrian Collaert published in 1590.

Some of the most highly regarded books ever published have been florilegia, and the period 1750-1850 is often considered to be the golden age of their production. Among the most admired are Basilius Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis, 1613; Robert Thornton’sTemple of Flora, 1799-1807; John Sibthorp’sFlora Graeca, 1806-1840 and Pierre-Joseph Redoute’s Les Roses, 1817-1824.Betwixt idea and publication, some florilegia have taken many years to complete. Without the commitment of patrons, botanists and artists to realize their vision, many would never have come to fruition. Notably the ‘Flora Danica’, first proposed in 1753, had its first part published in 1761 but various problems hindered its production and the final part was not realized until 122 years later in 1883. Similarly, The Banks’ Florilegium, a project to publish all the plants new to science discovered on the First Voyage of Captain Cook, was largely made ready for publication by 1782, eleven years after the end of the voyage but it was not produced as originally envisaged until 1980-1990.

Reflecting the dedication still needed to produce a florilegium, for seven years many of the leading botanical artists from around the world painted examples of the plants and trees  growing in His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales’s garden at High- grove in Gloucestershire. This resulted in 2008-9 in Addison Publications creating the first Florilegium under the patronage of a member of the British Royal Family – The Highgrove Florilegium.

Today the term Florilegium  is also frequently used to de- scribe a group of artists who are specifically drawing plants with a particular association or from a certain location. This may not always result in a publication but will lead to a collection of original paintings, often held at the site they were made. Such groups can be found working in such di- verse places as Hampton Court and the island of Alcatraz.

Genesis of the TransylvanIa FlorIlegIum

Transylvania Is a large region of central RomanIa bounded on the east and south by the arc of the Carpathian mountain chain. Transylvania is famed for the beauty of its landscapes and its epic history. Commonly associated with vampires, due to the novel Dracula, more deservedly Transylvania should be better known for its rich and diverse flora. Transylvania  has long attracted adventurous tourists and been a favorite with British visitors. In 1998 His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales first came upon the area and has since be- come a regular visitor. He has stated that he was “totally overwhelmed by its unique beauty and its extraordinarily rich heritage.” He now has a house in the remote village of Zalanpatak from where he can walk out through the myriad wildflowers of the extensive hay-meadows, pastures and woods of the neighboring farmlands that surround it.

The house in Zalanpatak and another smaller one in the village of Viscri are let out as guest houses.  Many of those staying come to see the wildflowers. There are some 1200 higher plant species to be found in this part of Transylvania mostly flowering from May to the end of July. The area is also rich in animal life and is one of the few places in Europe where bears can still be found. The Prince of Wales’s interest  in the area is not confined to looking at the flowers and enjoying the peace and quiet. He has taken an active role in trying to preserve the positive outcomes for the environment of centuries of non-intensive farming practices, while at the same time helping to introduce new approaches, using innovative technology that ensures  farming the  land in a traditional way can also be profitable.

Traditional mixed farming, involving little or no fertilizer and low animal numbers, has resulted in a flourishing and abundant variety of wildflowers and wildlife. The flora itself is no mere spectacle. The diversity of grasses and wildflowers in the meadows and pastures, including numerous orchids, wild sages, clovers, dwarf brooms trefoils, vetches and other legumes, provides quality feed for farm animals. The wildflowers are also food and habitat for insects, spiders and other invertebrates, birds and mammals, that contribute to the control of agricultural pests and maintain the ecological integrity of the landscape.

The Transylvania Florilegium has been compiled to record something of this precious flora that His Royal Highness has come to appreciate. The volumes and the paintings they hold are also a quiet plea for the protection and conservation of this area and its balanced, traditional way of life.

Creating the Transylvanian Florilegium

The Transylvania Florilegium continues the tradition of the florilegium being produced to  the  highest  standards  in every aspect of its production.  The finest books of flower pictures seek to duly honor the subjects they contain. This extends through the preparation of the original artworks, to the printing and the design, binding and finishing of the volumes.

As with The Highgrove Florilegium, Addison Publications have worked in conjunction with some of the finest contemporary botanical artists to commission paintings of the flora of this plant rich region of Romania. Over a five year period the artists visited Transylvania in small groups, each at a different time in the year. This ensured they were able to observe and paint as wide a range of the plants in flower as possible. Each group of artists was led by the botanical painter and teacher Helen Allen. Helen’s artistic talents, combined with her experience of running the prestigious Chelsea  School of Botanical Art, based at the Chelsea Physic Garden, made her the ideal person to advise and motivate all the artists and also importantly ensure they delivered their finished painting on time!

The artists were also accompanied on each visit by Dr John Akeroyd, a botanist who is an expert on the flora of Europe. John has been working in Romania since 2000 and is actively involved in initiatives to ensure the conservation of the biodiversity of this special region. On their return from the field, as the artists worked to- wards producing their completed paintings they were guided by a small selection panel of publishers, curators, fellow artists and botanists to ensure the highest standards and accuracy of representation.

The artists at work

At all times In creating a painting the botanical artist must achieve scientific accuracy. It is vital to portray the plant precisely and with the required level of detail for it to be clearly distinguished from another species. This need for exactness differentiates botanical illustration from “flower painting.” The best botanical artists also achieve an aesthetic quality that lifts the work to a high artistic level. Each botanical artist works differently following their own preferred method and schedule. However, all work through a succession of stages. The process starts with the selection of the plant and a decision about which particular specimen to draw. Frequently, as with the Transylvania Florilegium, this is done in the field, in discussion with a scientist. Specimens are treated carefully and any that are dug up are replanted intact. The artist will also consult the literature available on the species and may access dried specimens kept in a herbarium.

It is vital to capture the essential characteristics of the chosen specimen quickly. The appearance of plants can change rapidly once picked and many have a short  flowering period. Most artists will make preliminary sketches and record in paint the colors of flowers, leaves, stalk and roots.  The digital camera now makes it simpler to supplement these with photographs. The artist will often see some aspects of a plant differently to a botanist and a discussion between the two as the painting evolves, can yield new insights to both. Use of a microscope to magnify plant structures will help in the delineation of features.  Addition of magnified detail to a painting is a common aspect of botanical illustration. A carefully thought out composition will also help ensure the viewer understands the exact nature of the plant.

A frequently asked question is how long does each painting take to complete? This is an impossible question to answer  as every plant varies in its complexity and every artist works at a different pace. Some artists apply their paint relatively quickly while others spend minutes considering each stroke. As an indication of how complex and time consuming producing a painting of a plant can be – Beverley Allen spent 100 hours on her painting of the Elder-flowered Orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina).

Production of the Book

The outstanding output of the artists had to be presented in as fine a for- mat as possible. Addison Publications  put together a highly skilled team. The design and typography of the volumes holding the pictures was thus extremely important.  As with the Highgrove Florilegium this task was entrusted to Iain Bain. With sixty years experience in publishing he again brought all his skills and flair to designing these beautiful volumes.

The text has been set in the Fairbank typeface which was designed by Robin Nicholas  for the High- grove Florilegium with the descriptions accompanying the plants set in the Bembo font. The vignettes and end papers were drawn by the distinguished artist and engraver Richard Shirley Smith. His precise, clean style ideally complements the botanical paintings. The Transylvania Florilegium was printed using Stochastic Lithography. This modern computer aided printing method ensures the botanical prints are as close to the original watercolors as can be achieved. The printing was done by Pureprint in Sussex. This high quality printing firm has won many awards and was the first in the world to become a CarbonNeutral® printer.The botanical pictures were printed on 200 gsm Archival Cotton  paper that  was  made in the United States at the Monadnock Paper Mills in New Hampshire. The text was print- ed on 175 gsm Somerset Bookwove paper made at the St Cuthbert’s Mill in Somerset, England. Both papers are made of the highest quality acid-free cotton.

The binding of the volumes was done by multi prize winning craft bookbinder Stephen Conway in Halifax. The leather used is ‘Chieftain’ goatskin which was specially dyed and prepared by J. Hewit & Sons of Edinburgh. The marbled papers used on the covers were reated by Jemma Lewis in Wiltshire. The bound books were then passed to James and Stuart Brockman who finished the volumes by hand tooling the leather and applying the gold leaf to the embossed motifs.

How the printing of Images has changed

For centuries people spent years, often dedicating their whole working lives, to trying to perfect ways of accurately and cost effectively reproducing an image, especially in color. Today we tend to take it for granted that at the press of a button we can print a fair copy of a picture. Whilst achieving a high quality print still re- quires skill and an eye for detail, today’s printers have modern computer controlled technology to assist them as well as recourse to more traditional techniques. The difficulty printmakers faced for so many years is easily overlooked.

Before the invention of printing with movable type, copying by hand was the only simple way of making more copies of a book. This was never very practicable for the reproduction of images as the process was slow, required a skilled hand and was expensive, making an already costly item even more so. There are very few examples of books with multiple images being reproduced in this way. Perhaps the most famous exception is the second edition of Nicholas Jacquin’s Selectarum Stirpium Americanarum Historia (1780-81) where all the plates in all the copies were hand painted.

One of the oldest techniques for printing is wood block printing. An image is drawn in reverse onto a piece of wood. The background  is cut down leaving a raised image of the main subject. The raised surface is inked up and paper is pressed down on top of it to transfer the image. Wood block printing is a type of relief printing. Other materials used to do relief printing are linoleum and occasionally metal. Carving wood blocks requires great skill to achieve the finest results. Making a print in multiple colors is difficult and usually when a print was wanted in color it was finished by hand painting. This process is now largely only used for limited editions of art prints. While early prints using this technique could be quite crude some have achieved very detailed, beautiful images.

Intaglio printing (from the Italian ‘intagliare’ meaning to engrave) became more widely used than wood block in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  In this process, a metal plate is used and the selected image is either engraved into the metal or the plate is coated with a waxy acid-resistant substance on which the design is drawn (etched) using a metal needle. The plate is then placed in acid which “eats” into the areas that have been cleared of wax by the engraving. Intaglio printing is the reverse of wood block printing as the raised areas remain blank while engraved lines are inked. Printing in color with this technique is difficult and generally prints were completed by hand coloring. Printing in color can be done but usually requires the application of the paper to the plate more than once. The plate has to be cleaned down and re-inked with different colors between the “pressings” which must be done very precisely. This process is known by the term à la poupée and was used in the production of the Banks’ Florilegium.

From the middle of the Nineteenth Century the process of lithography, invented in 1796 in Germany by Alois Senefelder, became the most widely used method of reproducing images in books. It was cheaper and faster than previous printing methods. Lithography derives from the ancient Greek words lithos and graphein which mean “stone” and “to write.” This reflects that originally limestone was used in lithography. In the twentieth century flexible metal plates became more widely used. With lithography the image is drawn onto the stone/plate using a wax crayon or similar. The plate is then treat- ed with a solution of gum Arabic and water. This only sticks to the non-greasy areas. An oil based ink is then applied which adheres to the waxy areas and is repelled by the water retaining areas. A sheet of paper is then pressed onto the stone and the ink is transferred  to the paper and the image reproduced. Many variations of the basic lithographic process have been developed as people have tried to find cheaper and simpler ways to produce high quality images.

The Transylvania Florilegium was printed using stochastic lithography.  This modern computer aided method facilitates the creation of out- standing quality prints from original watercolors.  Compared to conventional lithography which prints dots of various sizes, spacing them at a regular distance from each other stochastic lithography uses microdots of a common size but varies the spacing between them according to their tonal value. The tonal ranges and color contrasts are also improved because the variation in dot distribution increases ink densities. The end result is a print of high quality that appears sharper, cleaner and is as close to the colors of the original painting as can be achieved.

Images within this post are under the copyright of “The Transylvania Florilegium” ©. This article was wrote with the kind support of Addison Publications,