Clusius & the botanical renaissance
Carolus Clusius was a renowned scholar from the Southern Netherlands. After graduating from the Collegium Trilingue in Louvain and attending courses in law and medicine at several European universities, he specialized in the upcoming field of natural history, especially botany.
As an expert in languages he produced translations of medicinal treatises, herbals and travel accounts for his publisher Christoph Plantin in Antwerp. He also attended gardens of emperors and aristocrats, and eventually created the first botanical garden of the Netherlands at the university of Leiden in 1594.
Clusius became best known for his original research on exotic and indigenous plants and animals, which he based on observations in the field and in the gardens and cabinets of his patrons and his many friends. He described hundreds of new plant and animal species, and even mushrooms, in beautiful Latin texts and in accurate woodcuts. His collected works, Rariorum plantarum historia (Antwerp 1601) and Exoticorum libri decem (Leiden 1605), became works of reference. These publications, and many others by Clusius, can be consulted on the Missouri Botanical Garden Library’s website Botanicus.org.
Clusius was not alone. He collaborated with hundreds of people from all over Europe. These amateur and expert naturalists came from different social and intellectual backgrounds, but they were united by a shared passion for nature, gardening, medicine and travel. Among them were physicians, merchants, apothecaries, aristocrats, gardeners, and many knowledgeable women. This community exchanged letters, illustrations, specimens, descriptions and experiences, often on a grand scale, and their collaborative efforts to study nature from Europe and overseas resulted in the so-called botanical renaissance of the sixteenth century.
As one of the central figures of the botanical renaissance of the sixteenth century, Clusius, his work, and his network have already received considerable attention. Especially the old biography by F.W.T. Hunger, Charles de l’Escluse (Carolus Clusius). Nederlandsch kruidkundige, 1526–1609 (2 vol., The Hague 1927–1942) is still of great value.
Inspired by the new cultural history of science, the NWO-funded Clusius Research Project (2005-2011, Leiden University) focused on the collaborative nature of his research and on his network and correspondence. You are encouraged to use the publications resulting from this project, listed below, to gain more knowledge about the life, letters, work and network of Clusius and his many contacts, as well as older literature.
- F. Egmond, P. Hoftijzer en R. Visser ed., Carolus Clusius. Towards a cultural history of a Renaissance naturalist (Amsterdam 2007)
- The exotic world of Carolus Clusius (1526-1609). Kleine publicaties van de Leidse Universiteitsbibliotheek 80 (Leiden 2009)
- F. Egmond, The world of Carolus Clusius: natural history in the making, 1550-1610 (London 2010)
- E. van Gelder, Tussen hof en keizerskroon. Carolus Clusius en de ontwikkeling van de botanie aan Midden-Europese hoven (1573-1593) (Leiden 2011)
- Esther van Gelder & Nicolas Robin eds., ‘Flowers of passion and distinction: practice, expertise and identity in Clusius’ world’, special issue Jahrbuch für Europäische Wissenschaftskultur 6 (2011).
- S. Anagnostou, M.F. Egmond, C. Friedrich eds., A Passion for Plants. Materia medica and botany in scientific networks from the 16th to 18th centuries (Marburg 2012)
- Esther van Gelder (ed.), Bloeiende kennis. Groene ontdekkingen in de Gouden Eeuw (Hilversum 2012)
- Sylvia van Zanen, “Een uitzonderlijke verscheidenheid”. Planten, vrienden en boeken in het leven en werk van Carolus Clusius (1526-1609). Unpublished doctoral thesis Leiden University (to be defended in January 2016).