The tobacco specie exists in hundreds of different types and in course of the time many artists were fascinated by this unusual plant. This page gives a brief survey of the depictions of the ordinary tobacco plant, the Nicotiana Tabacum.
The earliest illustration is a beautiful woodcut from 1597 showing the tobacco plant in its ideal shape, complete with its roots fully-grown and of course flowering. This type of botanical illustration is the base of all the later prints and drawings of the tobacco plant.
During the centuries remarkable changes in style can be noticed, showing an ever-growing interest not in only illustrating the plant itself, but also adding all stages in its growing and blossoming.
The beautiful print of Chrispijn van de Passe from 1614 focuses only on the top of the plant. Typical for seventeenth century prints, embellished with a naturalistic poppy.
The eighteenth century printwork is in general a continuation of the century before, however somewhat more detailed. Now the flower of the plant is illustrated complete with its botanical details and often also in cross cut.
By the end of that century magnificent volumes appear, first as engravings, later in lithographic print, in which all the varieties of tobacco specimen are illustrated. By that time curious details get more attention. It is remarkable that the various artists illustrate the plant each on their own way. They try to find attractive solutions for the added details that are of great importance to the botanist, but spoil the artistic result.
This fashion of botanical prints continues in the nineteenth century. Especially the French and English prints are exact illustrations with a maximum of details. They are in great contrast to the last two illustrations in this section: a wood engraving and a free drawing from Pritchard's publication Smokiana. In both these illustrations the botanical details are not included, all attention is put on the appearance of the plant and the attractive beauty of the flowers.
Illustrations on this page from the collections of Amsterdam Pipe Museum
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