Flemish physician Rembert Dodoens devoted his career to the adaptation and translation of classical herbals. The engraving above is taken from Dodoen’s final and most comprehensive work, Stirpium historæ pemptades sex, completed two years before his death. The text and illustrations derive heavily from two earlier works, Leonhart Fuch’s De historia stirpium (1542) and Pietro Mattioli’s Commentarii (1554). While Dodoens worked predominantly as a translator of classical texts, he eventually developed his own expertise as a naturalist, recording direct observations from live plants.
This illustration of two species of Aloe is one of 1,300 woodcuts in the volume, the majority of them hand-colored and highlighted with gold. Dodoens’ work is unique among herbals of its period, as he arranged his plants systematically instead of alphabetically. Each plant is classified by its characteristics: fragrant herbs, medicinal herbs, flowers, seeds, and roots. Dodoens furnished the Greek and Latin names of each species, as well as its common names in German, Bohemian, French, and English.
Having enjoyed immediate success with his first herbal, Cruijdeboeck (1554), Dodoens was appointed personal physician to Emperor Maximillian II, and went on to serve his successor, Emperor Rudolph II. After serving the courts of Vienna and Prague for eight years, Dodoens took on a professorship of botany at the University in Leiden for the remaining three years of his life. Dodoens’ herbals were translated into French and English during his lifetime, and the popular English edition was republished three times.