The Portland Vase, £5.00
Height: 460.000 mm
Width: 375.000 mm (closed)
Depth: 60.000 mm
On loan from the Natural History Museum HS106
Enlightenment: Natural world
Giovanni Machion, Plants from the garden at Padua, an album
Produced in Padua, Italy, about 1631-94
This volume of plants used in medicine is one of four prepared between 1631 and 1694 by Giovanni Machion, the head gardener at the University of Padua, Italy. These were among the 255 albums in the herbarium - a collection of mounted and dried plants - belonging to the great collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753).
Machion's albums may have been intended as catalogues either of the plants grown at Padua or of those that were for sale. In either case they give us a record of what plants were being grown over 300 years ago in botanical gardens like the University of Padua's. The plants in this volume are mainly medicinal or aromatic, although some ornamental plants are included. There are also curiosities such as a palm cross from Palm Sunday 1658 with the name of Pope Alexander VII (the pope at that time) written next to it.
People had been assembling herbaria since the mid-fifteenth century. Until the early eighteenth century most were bound in book form, like this example. The albums in Sloane's herbarium show us one of the ways in which plants were collected and classified before the classification system created by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) became standard. Sloane used a system devised by his friend John Ray (1627-1705), who used up to five Latin names to describe each specimen. Sloane's albums are also important because they contain many 'type' specimens - the original ones used to establish the identity of individual species of plants.
K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)
A. MacGregor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane, collector, sc (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)