Theatrum Botanicum by John Parkinson

The Theater of Plantes book

William Marshall
British, 1591- c. 1649
Frontispiece for Theatrum Botanicum, about 1640

From Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants, by John Parkinson (London, 1640)

Loan from the Harold and Mary Jean Hanson Rare Book Collection, Department of Special Collections and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida

John Parkinson (1567-1650) was a botanist and herbalist who helped found the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. He served as Royal Botanist to Charles I at a time when the practice of herbalism was becoming the science of botany. His early work on kitchen, orchard and flower gardens was an important contribution to English horticulture. His Theatrum Botanicum (The Botanical Theatre) described 3,800 plants and focused more on medicinal plants. It became the standard for English apothecaries for 100 years. He sought information and specimens from correspondents throughout the world and created a work based on observation and data collection rather than information based on older works.

William Marshall’s elaborate frontispiece for Theatrum Botanicum is divided into three registers. At the top and bottom, allegorical figures appear against a backdrop of fantastical garden imagery. The rhinoceros in the upper left may refer to the coat of arms of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries founded by John Parkinson in 1617. Parkinson, whose portrait appears at the bottom, also served on the Court of Assistants, the Society’s governing body. The fantastical garden imagery and the presence of Adam in the middle register, reflect Parkinson’s belief that the botanical world was an expression of divine creation and his conviction that through gardens, man could recapture something of Eden.