Our next post highlights a plate from Johann Wilhelm Weinmann’s compilation, Phytanthoza iconographia. The plate features two variations of the Canna Indica plant, a flower native to the Caribbean and warmer Americas. Measuring at about 12 by 8 inches and boasting both vibrant reds and greens, this print is a stunning example of the high quality prints attributed to Weinmann.
Weinmann was an apothecary from the German city of Regensburg, born in the late 17th century, and living well into the middle of the 18th century. Working as the hospital apothecary, the city assessor, as well as holding posts on the town council, Weinmann was lucrative in his flourishing business enterprises. He focused his studies mainly on plants and his work earned him great scientific acclaim among botanists. He wrote small pieces for the Breslau collections and also published a catalog of medicinal plants and drugs for his pharmacy, entitled Catalogus Alphabetico ordine exhiibens Pharmaca in 1723.
His wealth and success allowed him the luxury to compile his Phytanthoza iconographia. A truly ambitious project, the Phytanthoza iconographia includes 8 folio volumes and over 1000 plates, resulting in one of the most comprehensive reference on plants, flowers, and fruits of the eighteen century. The collection is impressive in both size and scope, both almost unparalleled in beauty. Weinmann utilized the talents of Georg Dionysius Ehret, a distinguished botanical artist credited with being the greatest influence on 18th century botanical painters, in addition to the help he received by N. Assam, B. Seuter, J.E. Rindinger and J. Haid. Ehret is responsible for roughly 500 plates, half of the images in the collection.
Canna Indica is, along with the other prints in the Phytanthoza, a mezzotint and copperplate engraving. To make a mezzotint, the surface of the copper plate must first be roughened and pitted by a semi-circular tool with small projections known as a “rocker”. The depressions on the surface of the plate are very capable of holding ink, and if printed, would produce a rich, velvety black. Therefore, the image is created by smoothing out the roughened parts of the plate. A completely smooth section holds no ink, and thus yields the highlights. Mezzotint is a tone process, and unlike engraving that works with lines, it works in areas, thus allowing it to be very suitable for printing with colored inks. Weinmann used the sharp line of the engraving burin, coupled with the rich tonality of a mezzotint, to achieve his desired end product.
Weinmann was also one of the first printmakers to produce color printing from a single plate, resulting in a vibrant and cohesive image. Canna Indica is such a great example of the rich coloration achieved by the single-plate process. The petals, saturated with rich reds and oranges, contrast with the thick cream-colored paper. Coupled with the large emerald and jade leaves and labeled in a delicate script, Canna Indica is an image satisfying to the senses. All of Weinmann’s prints are striking, portraying the variations found in nature with a great attention to tone and detail.
Phytanthoza iconographia was published in both Latin and German editions, and a Dutch edition appeared in four volumes in 1736-1748. It was the Dutch edition that was brought to Japan in the early nineteenth century, and some of Weinmann’s illustrations were the source for those in Honzu zufu, the monumental Japanese botanical work by Iwasaki Tsunemasa. Honzu zufu was one of the two most important treatises on systematic botany in the Tokugawa period (1603-1867).