One of the earliest modern watercolors is a botanical work: Albrecht Dürer’s The Large Piece of Turf (1503, 21x13cm), made with watercolor and gouache, traces each blade with the precision of renaissance silverwork or embroidery, yet lets the life of the grass shine through.
The word florilegium originally meant a collection of flowers, but now has come to mean a collection of botanical paintings.
The word applies especially to:
- a collection of botanically accurate paintings of plants, done by botanical illustrators from life
- a patristic anthology in Christian literature
- the title of various literary anthologies, e.g., by Johannes Stobaeus
- the title of certain collections of musical compositions, e.g., by Georg Muffat
- a classical music ensemble called Florilegium
Botanical Illustration is one of the oldest watercolor genres, associated throughout its history with the importance of plants to human health, recreation, and appreciation of beauty. Today it is one of the few art genres that unites watercolorists around the world in a shared love of nature and a common set of painting methods and pictorial conventions.
Botanical symbolism has its origin in the literature of antiquity, where plants are often used in metaphors for virtue and vice. In classical mythology, human beings are transformed into plants as a reward or punishment, as in the story of Narcissus, the vain youth who fell in love with his own reflection and was changed into a flower that bears his name. Certain plants are also mentioned as attributes of gods and goddesses: grapes for Bacchus, god of wine, and corn or wheat for Ceres, goddess of agriculture. Classical texts on farming and natural histories by Pliny, Cato, and Lucretius also recorded some of the traditional lore associated with plants. Many of these ideas and associations were passed on to scholars and artists during the Renaissance, a period of revived interest in classical texts.