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Watercolour - Paeonies (Paeonia officinalis)
  • Paeonies (Paeonia officinalis)
    Walther, Johann Jakob
  • Enlarge image

Paeonies (Paeonia officinalis)

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Idstein (painted)

  • Date:

    ca 1650-70 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Walther, Johann Jakob (artist)
    Walther, Johann Jakob

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level E, case DP, shelf 130

The 'Nassau Florilegium' was a manuscript florilegium compiled between ca 1650 and 1670 by Johann Jakob Walther. A florilegium is a decorative flower book, often associated with a particular garden, as in this example recording the plants in the garden at Idstein (near Frankfurt) created by the Count of Nassau. These books first appeared in the 17th century, when it became fashionable among the wealthy to collect and cultivate flowering plants, especially the exotic, rare and beautiful. Usually arranging plants by season, florilegia were catalogues of these living but ephemeral collections. They were also important sources of inspiration for floral motifs in the decorative arts. The 'Nassau Florilegium' was not published but exists as two volumes of watercolours (133 flower and fruit studies plus views of the gardens) in eighteenth-century bindings. There is a second version in the Bibliothèque National in Paris which has very similar but not identical plates dated 1652-65; a third copy consisting of 200 plates, formerly in Darmstadt Landesbibliothek, was destroyed during the Second World War.

There is a naive formalism to Walther's illustrations which supersedes and often precludes naturalism. The stiffness of his plant portraits mirrors the formal plantings of seventeenth-century gardens, with each plant 'displayed', set at a distance from its neighbours. Plants naturally single-stemmed and erect in habit were preferred - tulips, crown imperials, narcissi, hyacinths, foxgloves, lilies. In Walther's illustrations even those of a spreading or bushy growth such as paeonies and roses have imposed upon them an upright posture, so that each flower can be shown in isolation. The paeony is supported here on impossibly slender stems elegantly entwined so that the composition accommodates and balances each flower.

Physical description

Watercolour on paper

Place of Origin

Idstein (painted)


ca 1650-70 (painted)


Walther, Johann Jakob (artist)
Walther, Johann Jakob

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper


Height: 600 mm Sheet, Width: 462 mm Sheet

Object history note

The Castle of Idstein, in the Taunus, near Frankfort, was built between 1615 and 1630 for the Counts of Nassau but fell into disrepair during the latter part of the Thirty Years War. On his return from exile (ca 1649) Count Johannes restored the buildings, founded a picture gallery, and laid out a garden full of rare flowers. At the end of the garden he erected a summerhouse with a small octagonal pavilion or grotto to which a wing was added a few years later. The interior of the grotto was decorated with shells, fountains, etc. Above the door were painted the arms of Nassau, and on the remaining portion of the roof, the figures of gods and goddessses representing the Seven Planets.

Johann Walther of Strassburg, was employed to paint a record of the garden and the present volumes are the result. Having passed out of the hands of the Nassau family they were in the possession of John, 3rd Earl of Bute sometime between 1762, when he became a Knight of the Garter, and 1792 when he died, as is shown by the heraldic bookstamp on the outside cover of each volume. Bute, who was "passionately fond of botany" (see 'Dictionary of National Biography'), purchased, in 1763, an estate at Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, where, in a house built for him by Robert Adam, he established a magnificent library. "Since then two fires have unfortunately occurred at Luton Hoo: one in 1771, when the library, including that purchased from the Duke of Argyll, perished; the other in 1843 when the house was destroyed, but the greater part of the pictures and books were saved. Bute also formed a botanic garden at Luton Hoo, but he subsequently removed his valuable collection of plants to Christ Church... Bute's collection of prints, a part of his library, and duplicates of his natural history collection were sold at his death (see catalogue of sales preserved in British Museum, press mark 1255, c.15.1-3)." ('Dictionary of National Biography'). A similar 'Florilegium' of more than 200 leaves was made by the painter himself, and is now in the Darmstadt Landesbibliothek (the Darmstadt copy was destroyed in the Second World War). A comparison of the two works shows the alterations which were carried out to the exterior and interior of the summerhouse. (Information supplied by Herr Rektor Ziemer).

Descriptive line

Watercolour, Similacrum Scenographicum Celeberrimi Horti Itzeinensis, by Johann Jakob Walther, 1654

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

'Picturing Plants: an analytical history of botanical illustration' by Gill Saunders; 1995; Zwemmer in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum; no.25, page 43
'Picturing Plants: an analytical history of botanical illustration' by Gill Saunders; 2009; KWS Publishers in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum; no.25, page 43

Labels and date

Johann Jakob Walther about 1604-77
Peonies (Paeonia officinalis)
About 1650-70

The 'Nassau Florilegium' consists of two volumes of watercolours recording the plants in the garden at Idstein, near Frankfurt, created by the Count of Nassau. Walther's plant portraits mirror the formal plantings of the 17th-century gardens, in which each plant was set at a distance from its neighbours. Here the peony is supported on impossibly slender stems, entwined to form a balanced composition.

Plate from the 'Nassau Florilegium', vol. i
V&A: 9174:48 []


Watercolour; Paper; Watercolour; Paper


Watercolour drawing; Watercolour

Subjects depicted

Peonies; Plant; Flower


Gardens & Gardening


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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