The extant herbaria from the Sixteenth Century: a synopsis

Riccardo M. Baldini, Dipartimento di Biologia, Centro Studi Erbario Tropicale, Università di Firenze

Giovanni Cristofolini, Erbario e Orto Botanico, Sistema Museale di Ateneo, Università di Bologna

Carlos Aedo, Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid

The art of making a herbarium, i.e. preserving pressed dried plants, identified according the best taxonomic knowledge, and assembling them (glued or free) on paper sheets loose or bound in a volume, first arose in Northern Italy in the first half of the Sixteenth Century, having a pioneer in Luca Ghini (Meyer 1857; Camus 1895; De Toni 1907; Chiarugi 1957).

Luca Ghini (1490–1556), native of Croara, a hamlet near Imola in Northern Italy, studied in Bologna, where he probably attended the lectures of Nicolò Leoniceno (1428–1524), a forerunner of modern science who taught in Ferrara for sixty years, and was entrusted with the teaching of medicine at Bologna University for one year, in 1508 (Calvi 1777).

Ghini was enrolled in the register of professors of medicine in 1528, and was additionally appointed to the Lectura simplicium in 1540 (Bertoloni 1891). His teaching in Bologna lasted until 1544, when he moved to Pisa. During this time Ghini assembled a collection of several hundred specimens, but nothing remains of it, mainly because he used to give his specimens to pupils and colleagues (De Toni 1905; Cristofolini 1992).

Many of the early herbaria underwent the same fate of being lost or dispersed through time: this is the case with the herbarium of the English mer chant and botanist John Falconer (d. 1560 ), as well as of a large part of the collections made by the Swiss physician Felix Platter (1536–1614) and by the Neapolitan botanist Ferrante Imperato (c. 1525–1621). Nevertheless, a conspicuous patrimony has been preserved until the present time.Although a number of papers have been published about the ancient herbaria unfortunately many of them appeared in comparatively scarce or obscure books or journals, while the few comprehensive studies on this topic (e.g. Saint-Lager 1885; Camus 1895) are obsolete.

The present contribution is intended to bridge this gap, by providing a synthesis of the essential knowledge presently available about the extant herbaria of the Sixteenth Century. The purpose is to facilitate access by the scientific community to this important source of historical information. In the following synopsis each herbarium has been named either with its traditional denomination, or with a new name congruent with its ascertained or supposed authorship.

The herbaria have been ordered chronologically; as several of them (especially the major ones) were assembled over many years, the sequence was based on the terminus post quem of the beginning of the composition. Considering that some herbaria have been the subject of a very extensive literature, only the main references have been cited.


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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy