Ferdinand Bauer – Flora Graeca

Blame it on the spring, but I’ll stay tuned on the same floral theme.

And this post is about a book proclaimed as “the greatest botanical work that has ever appeared” – the magnificent “Flora Graeca”.

Ferdinand Bauer - Flora Graeca

Ferdinand Bauer – Flora Graeca


It actually is not just a single book but a monumental compilation of 10 volumes of floral specimens previously unknown to science. They were collected by the English botanist John Sibthorp (1758 – 1796) from the flora of Greece during his two trips in 1786-87 and in 1794-95. With respect and admiration to his enormous work, but what catch the eye are the beautiful drawings of the Austrian illustrator Ferdinand Βauer (1760 – 1826). Bauer’s work is now regarded as one of the finest examples of botanical illustration and is highly appreciated by all plant lovers, not only by the specialists.

In reality, Bauer accompanied Sibthorp only on his first journey. Unable to carry with him on a field the range of colours needed, he made accurate preliminary sketches with a pencil filling them with a lot of numbers. These figures were his mysterious code to re-create afterwards the exact tones, colours and shades of the specimens. Upon returning in England he stayed a few years in Oxford producing 966 superbly water-coloured illustrations, all of them included subsequently in “Flora Graeca”.

Sibthorp died at a young age of 37 and accordingly to his will, he bequeathed his whole property to the Oxford University on condition that the income which would come from the exploitation of his fortune would be allocated to the publication of ‘Flora Graeca’ in 10 volumes.

The publishing of the first two volumes of this labour-intensive work started in 1806 and it took 34 years to complete it. Until 1828 gradually followed another four, the 7th appeared in 1830 and finally in 1840 this unique collection was finished with the last three.

Bauer created illustrations superior to anything of their kind in existence then, and his work was to become one of the most valuable treasures of the University of Oxford. The originals are now safely kept in the Bodleian Libraries in the Department of Plant Sciences.

For a closer look, see this short video from the series Treasures of the Bodleian, Flora Graeca.