Discovering herbalism through art. Plants in Polish symbolic painting (1890–1914)

ANITA MAGOWSKA

Abstract

The article focuses on the historical link between herbalism and art at the turn of the twentieth century. The aim of this investigation is to recognize medicinal plants shown as symbols in Polish painting between 1890 and 1914 and find some cultural context of their presence in artworks. In this qualitative study online art galleries and museum collections were analyzed to select Polish symbolists’ artworks including plant images. Next, their botanical classification and medicinal context were examined. Twenty wild-growing plant species were recognized. Some of them had been used in traditional medicine (Alcea rosea, Angelica archangelica, Artemisia abrotanum, Betula pendula, Carduus marianus, Convallaria majalis, Crocus sativus, Lilium candidum, Matricaria chamomilla, Nuphar lutea, Paeonia officinalis, Papaver somniferum, Pelargonium hortorum, Populus nigra, Primula veris, Sorbus aucuparia, Taraxacum officinale, and Verbascum thapsus) and two species grown in the Carpathians (Digitalis purpurea, Lilium bulbiferum) at the time. Used to paint realistic objects, the symbolists made free-hand drawings in nature and in this way they recorded some wild-growing plants typical for surroundings of the town of Cracow and the Carpathian Mountains. Artistic images of plants were not intentionally aimed at taxonomic identification, however, sometimes classification was possible.
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