The title of the work is "Botanica in originali, seu Herbarium vivum". This makes it clear that it is about original plants, representing a living herbarium. The plant images were produced using the process called "nature printing". To do this, actual plants were pressed and dyed with a stain made of soot and oil; however, the printing process remained secret. As the printing process put considerable strain on the plants, there had to be a sufficient number of replacement plants available. A maximum of five pieces of paper could be printed with the same plant. Some copies of the work were coloured according to precise guidelines.

The present example is a complete, coloured edition of all twelve "centuries"; i.e., all twelve sheets, each with one hundred plates. Thus, a total of 1200 plants were printed. Each century is preceded by a title page illustrated in colour. A prepended register enables an overview of the illustrated plants, with some plants listed multiple times.

As the centuries were sold unbound, it was the owner's responsibility to decide the order in which the plant images were arranged. In the present example, the original purchaser followed the order of the alphabet when binding, with the exception of the last century. The centuries published in Halle appeared without explanatory texts; under each individual image are only the Latin name and a few characteristics of the plant in note form. References to the works of Carl Linnaeus as well as the Leipzig medical professor and Director of the Botanical Gardens, Christian Gottlieb Ludwig, are given by those passages which refer to the plant.


The first edition of the "Botanica in originali" with the addition of "A living herbal" came out in several parts in 1733. At that time, Kniphof worked together with the printer Johann Michael Funcke. The first edition contains 300 plant images without text. The next edition followed immediately with 400 plates, which extended into 1736 and now also included explanations at the request of the readers. The texts for the medicinal plants were written by Kniphof, those for the garden plants by the horticultural writer Christian Reichard. In spite of the announcement of additional parts, the work stopped suddenly because the author Johann Hieronymus Kniphof lost his possessions and goods and thus his library as well in a devastating city-wide fire in Erfurt in 1736. It was not until 1747 that he attempted to build on the old tradition with the same publisher. This edition did not make it to the bookstore, however.

The present edition came out over the course of eight years between 1757 and 1764. Potential buyers were advised of the upcoming appearance of each current century with announcements in newspapers and journals. As many trained people were required to collect one hundred plants in several copies at the same time, each century represented a new challenge. It is extremely rare for complete editions of all twelve centuries to have been preserved to this day.


Johann Hieronymus Kniphof (1704–1763) lost his father early. Thanks to his mother, he was able to study medicine and then worked as a physician in Erfurt. In 1737, Kniphof achieved the title of professor extraordinarius at the University of Erfurt. From 1745 to 1756, he held the Chair of Anatomy, Surgery and Botany, served as Dean of the Medical Faculty from 1747 onwards and even became President of the University of Erfurt in 1761. He died during his second term.

Andreas Elias Büchner, a medical professor in Halle, was among Kniphof's closest friends. Using his position as President, Büchner helped Kniphof become a member of the highly prestigious Leopoldina, the world's oldest Academy of Sciences, at a young age. Büchner married Kniphof's widow after his death. Büchner was responsible for the Botanical Garden in Halle. As Kniphof states in the preface to the present edition, the new edition of the Botanica in Originali can be traced back to Büchner's efforts. Büchner also established contact with the printer Johann Gottfried Trampe from Halle.


Nature prints were not invented by Kniphof, as he himself pointed out. Leonardo da Vinci had already printed a sage leaf with this procedure and described the process in detail. In the 16th century, individual herbaria were produced using the nature printing process, probably because this was a good alternative to moisture-sensitive plant collections.

Buyers of botanical collections were primarily apothecaries who needed guidelines that were as lifelike as possible for determining pharmaceutical plants.

Carl Linnaeus had developed a classification system based on plant sexual organs which allowed for the unambiguous classification of each plant. With the establishment of his system, the science of botany experienced what could be viewed as a break with Baroque plant collections, gradually moving towards this form of classifying nature.

In the 18th century, botanical illustrations – similarly to anatomical atlases and scientific images in general – were more and more precise. In this context, nature printing became popular as a method for representing nature true to detail. Kniphof's work "Botanica in Originali" led the way in this development. Botanical writings which represented plants in an idealised manner also appeared parallel to this. Both traditions can be seen even today.

Johann Hieronymus Kniphof
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