The Garden at Eichstätt by Basilius Besler


The Garden at Eichstätt


Basilius Besler


Taschen, 2023.

Publisher’s Summary

A complete facsimile edition of the three-volume Hortus Eystettensis

When Prince-Bishop Johann Konrad von Gemmingen (1593/95–1612) undertook a radical renovation of the Willibaldsburg Castle, overlooking the Altmühl River in Eichstätt, Bavaria, he also created a surrounding palatial pleasure garden of magnificence and grandeur. To preserve the garden for future generations – and provide an ‘evergreen’ record of its contents, compiling plants from all four seasons and presenting them in that order – he commissioned the garden’s director, Nuremberg apothecary Basilius Besler (1561–1629), and a team of engravers to immortalize its treasures in print.

The resulting Hortus Eystettensis, published in Nuremberg in 1613 and containing 367 hand-colored plates and detailed descriptions, was a work of meticulous execution, spectacular diversity, and remarkably expensive for its time. As the garden contained a variety of plants imported from exotic locales, the three volumes exhibited a remarkable range, covering a total of 90 families and 340 genera. Due to the decorative, stylized execution of these illustrations, which began to see plants in aesthetic rather than merely practical or medicinal terms, the book is seen as a milestone in botanical illustration. While published before the time of standardized classification systems, it was later described by Carl Linnaeus as an “incomparable work”.

Besler’s catalog long outlived the gardens, which were destroyed in 1634 by invading Swedish troops during the Thirty Years’ War. However, a lengthy redevelopment project at the historic site culminated in the opening of the modern Bastion Garden in 1998, containing many of the plants shown in the Hortus Eystettensis.

Offering high-quality reproductions of these arresting illustrations, based on the copy of the Hortus Eystettensis at the University Library of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, this facsimile edition is accompanied by detailed plate descriptions of each plant’s botanical, pharmaceutical, and symbolic significance and an appendix of further essays which place the garden and the book in their historical contexts.

This edition presents a valuable piece of botanical literature which, on the rare occasions where a copy appears on the market, can fetch prices of over $1,000,000 at auction. In line with Besler’s original intentions, this facsimile unfurls the garden to a wider audience and captures it for posterity.

Our Thoughts

This is a prized possession in our library. It is a beautifully crafted book with illustrations to gaze upon for hours on end. This could well be the most famous botanical record ever committed to paper. It is a magnificent pictorial document of the flowers grown in the greatest German garden of its time. The book is in a class of its own regarding the quality of binding and paper. It is a treasure that will surely last and be admired in any library.