Early scientific illustrations of the Macaronesian flora: an introduction to pre-19th century artworks

  • Articles in non-SCI journals - international
  • Dec, 2015

Francisco-Ortega, J., Santos-Guerra, A., Sánchez-Pinto, L., Duarte, M.C., Rouhan, G., Santiago-Valentín, E., Carine, M. & Romeiras, M.M. (2015) Early scientific illustrations of the Macaronesian flora: an introduction to pre-19th century artworks. Vieraea, 43, 219-308. 


The natural history of the Macaronesian Islands has attracted the attention of European naturalists for a long time, as the islands harbour a unique flora and fauna not found in the mainland. As a result, Macaronesian organisms were commonly depicted in scientific illustrations of the day. We present a preliminary catalogue of botanical illustrations that were produced before the 19th century. We found paintings, engravings, and woodcuts for 182 taxa from these Atlantic Islands. Ninety-nine of them are endemics in at least one Macaronesian archipelago, 13 for cultivated species, and 70 for nonnative or non-endemic organisms. We recognized three groups of illustrations. The first group (51 taxa) is composed of illustrations made before 1753, the year when Carolus Linnaeus published his seminal work Species Plantarum. The second group (60 taxa) includes engravings that were published between 1754 and 1799. The last group (111 taxa) comprises those paintings and engravings that were the direct result of plant exploration that took place between 1687 (Sir Hans Sloane to Madeira from Britain) to 1797 (Captain Nicolas Baudin, with André-Pierre Ledru as one of the botanists and Antonio González as the scientific artist, to Tenerife from France). The famous plant collector from Kew Gardens, Francis Masson, also produced watercolours during his visit to Macaronesia between 1776 and 1779. The first group does not include any botanical illustration for Azores, and only one species from the Cape Verde Islands was depicted. The rest of species of this group are from the Canaries and Madeira. The second group is also dominated by Canarian and Madeiran plants and has only three species from Azores and one from the Cape Verde Islands. Illustrations that were part of plant exploration endeavors primarily yielded artwork for the Canaries and Madeira. The third group did not have any illustration from the Azores, but George Forster (scientific illustrator and one of the naturalists in the second voyage of Captain James Cook, from Britain) painted watercolours for 11 Cape Verde taxa. A total of 296 scientific illustrations of Macaronesian plants were produced before the 19th century. This total excludes copies of three of the original illustrations for Dracaena draco (one woodcut and one engraving) and Rumex lunaria (one woodcut), and multiple sets of original watercolours made by G. Forster, A. González, or F. Masson. Download Publication