Hortus Nitidissimis - Christophorus Jacobus Trew

Translators' Foreword

With the translation of Christoph Jacob Trew's Hortus nitidissimis omnem per annum superbiens floribus into English, one of the rarest and most famous antique botanical books is made accessible to a broader public, a task which we as the translators undertook with great pleasure. The book is a florilegium of ornamental garden flowers and especially famous for its illustrations which belong among the most sumptuous hand-coloured botanical prints ever produced. Rather than pursuing scientific precision the artists and engravers for whom Trew served as a patron, attempted to depict the inate beauty found within the floral kingdom, utilising unconventional techniques such as applying water-colour mixed with a chalk-like material which made the plate look more like a painting.

The most famous botanical artist who contributed to the Hortus nitidissimis was Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770). He was commissioned by Trew to prepare illustrations for this work while travelling through Holland, England, France and Switzerland. Ehret also worked with Carl Linnaeus, William Aiton, and Patrick Browne. Other examples of Ehret's work are found in the Hortus cliffortianus (1738), Plantae selectae (1750-73), Hortus kewensis (1789), Plantae et papiliones rariores (1748-1759) and the Civil and Natural History of Jamaica (1756). Other artists commissioned for the Hortus nitidissimis include Barbara Regina Dietsch, Nikolaus Friedrich Eisenberger, Johann Christoph Keller, and August Wilhelm Sievert. The early plates were engraved by Johann Michael Seligmann, but the majority of signed plates are engraved by Adam Ludwig Wirsing.

Dr. Christoph Jacob Trew was a wealthy physician in Nuremberg and a great flower enthusiast. He published a series of magnificently illustrated volumes on plants: the 'Herbarium Blackwellianum Emmendatum et Auctum' (between 1750 and 1760) which dealt with herbals and medicinal plants, the series 'Plantae selectae' (1750 - 1773) which contained a selection of then rare and new plants, and the 'Hortus nitidissimis' (1758 - 1786). The latter, however, was different from the previous works. It was (intentionally) one of the greatest florilegiums of the eighteenth century and was entirely devoted to ornamental flowers. 'Plantae selectae' and 'Hortus nitidissimis' were continued by other editors long after Trew's death in 1769.

Due to the high printing costs and in order to make the Hortus nitidissimis a more affordable book to buy, it was published in (three?) separate collectible parts spread over almost 40 years (bearing publication dates of 1758 through 1786 but actually believed to have been produced 1750 through 1792). This is one the main reasons why the Hortus nitidissimis is one of the most elusive antique botanical books and few complete copies with 180 folio hand-coloured engraved plates are nowadays known. In 2001, a complete copy has been sold for more than £400,000.

A note about the translation

Much more than English, the German as it was written and spoken at the time (end of eighteenth century) differed very much from contemporary German. For reasons of authenticity and to convey as much of the historic content as possible, the translation attempted to stay as close to the original text as possible. The translators are aware that in places this may make the English appear long-winded and contradicting good contemporary written English. For certain ancient terms used, it was sometimes difficult to find an equivalent English expression. For publications, the original German titles were kept with the English translation following in square brackets. Certain names and terms were kept in the German original and are followed by "(→)" indicating that the reader may refer to the appended glossary for further explanation. In the very rare case that no English equivalent could be found for a certain German plant name or other expression, the original wording is given within quotes followed by "[x]".


  • cornworm: referring to the larvae of the granary weevil, Calandra granaria
  • Herkuleskraut = "hercules wort"; in German the name refers to Heracleum mantegazzianum, a member of the Apiaceae which, however, cannot be the plant referred to in the present context. A possible alternative species cannot be identified.
  • line ["Linie"]: ancient linear dimension, approx. 2 mm; similar to the "Nössel" (→), the length of a line varied between different principalities, e.g. Hannoverian line: 2.03 mm, Saxon line: 1.9666 mm Prussian line: 2.18 mm [source: H. Vogt: Alte Maße und Gewichte im Kyffhäuserkreis]
  • Nössel = Ancient measure used for wine, spirit and beer. Approximately equivalent to one pint but exact quantity varying between different principalities and whether the measure refers to wine and sprit or beer., e.g. in Mühlhausen (Prussia) one Nössel [also Nösel] for wine and spirit was equivalent to 0.511 litre while one Nössel of beer measured 0.4372 litre; in comparison one Nössel in Sondershausen (Saxony) was the equivalent of 0.4294 litre. [source: H. Vogt: Alte Maße und Gewichte im Kyffhäuserkreis].
  • Springwurzel = lit. "explosive root"; according to Pliny, the mythical "Springwurzel" is Euphorbia lathyris, a magic herb that is said to have the power to open locked doors, to burst rocks, and let horses lose their shoes when they accidentally treaded on one. In the pesent text, however, the name is used for a species of "yellow poppy" with "the seed capsule is bent like small horns" which "grows on sea shores", indicating that the author is most probably referring to Glaucium flavum, the yellow horned-poppy.
  • Zäserlein: referring to a small fibre or hair on the leaves or roots.