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On 15 December 1868, Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, Professor of Botany at the University of Munich and director of the Royal Botanic Garden, was carried to his grave in a coffin covered with fresh palm leaves. These were a reference to his groundbreaking Historia Naturalis Palmarum: Opus Tripartitum (Natural History of Palms: A Work in Three Volumes), published between 1823-1850.
At the time, this encyclopedic treasury contained the sum of human knowledge on the topic, and included 240 exquisite chromolithographic illustrations, including landscape views of palm habitats and botanical dissections. This epic folio was based on Martius' expedition to Brazil and Peru with zoologist Johann Baptist von Spix, sponsored by King Maximilian I of Bavaria, to investigate natural history and tribal Indians. From 1817 to 1820 the pair travelled over 2 250 km (1 400 miles) throughout the Amazon Basin, the most species-rich palm region in the world, collecting and sketching specimens. On their return both men were awarded knighthoods and lifetime pensions.
In his epic work, Martius outlined the modern classification of palm, produced the first maps of palm biogeography, described all the palms of Brazil, and collated the sum of all known general of the palm family. For apart from his own collection of specimens and notes, Martius also wrote about the findings of others. Martius' folio is unusual in its inclusion of cross-sectioned diagrams, conveying the architecture of these mighty trees, which central Europeans would have found hard to imagine accurately. Equally remarkable are the color landscapes showing various palms – often standing alone – which have a simple and elegant beauty. This famous work is an unrivaled landmark in botanic illustration and taxonomy.
Petra Lamers-Schutze studied art history, archaeology and Romance languages and literatures in Mainz and Rome, gaining her doctorate in 1991. She has worked for TASCHEN since 1998, writing and editing numerous art titles, and overseeing the Art and Classic series. Prof. Dr. H. Walter Lack is Director at the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem and Professor at the Free University of Berlin. He has published The Flora Graeca Story, 1998, A Garden of Eternity, Berne 2000, in 2001 Garden Eden and most recently Florilegium Imperiale, 2006.
"Beautifully detailed [...] A landmark in taxonomic description, botanical illustration and the realistic representation of species in the landscape."
– The Financial Times, London