This woodblock was designed by Giorgio Liberale and Wolfgang Meyerpeck for the 1565
edition of Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s foundational manuscript Commentarii in sex libros Pedacii Dioscoridis
de medica materia. “Aconitum,” or wood cranesbill, is a woodland plant native to Europe and northern
Turkey. In summer, its purple to blue flowers bloom on deeply toothed ruffs of leaves. The
“Aconitum” block belongs to a series of three illustrations of the genus printed in the Commentarii.
One of its species, monkshood, was used by Mattioli in a notorious experiment that tested the effect
of its poison on condemned prisoners.
The artists, Liberale and Meyerpeck, used large planks of pear wood to produce the
woodblocks, and because they made allowances for blemishes in the blocks’ surfaces, scholars have
deduced that they drew their designs directly onto the wood. Collectively, the illustrations in this
series have been praised for their extreme detail and shading. They are placed among the finest and
latest existing examples of botanical woodblock prints, as technologies in metal engraving went on
to replace wood as a medium in the 1580s. Contrasting the illustrations with others of the period,
scholar William Patrick Watson notes, “The Mattioli images seem to express delight in the formal
and symmetrical designs that the plant forms allow, and the technical challenges of depicting dense and complex patterns, without sacrificing botanical accuracy.”