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Dominic Olariu/translated by Heike Campbell
The Codex Kentmanus in the Duchess Anna Aamalia Library in Weimar as a model for the Princely herbal book
During a study visit in Italy from 19 September 1547 to September 1549, during which he was promoted to Doctor of Medicine, Johannes Kentmann drew around 200 full page watercolour illustrations of rare plants which he subsequently brought back to Saxony. Today, they are part of the Codex Kentmanus of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar which also includes the doctor’s other drawings and those of his son Theophil. On his return to Saxony Johannes began to sort his plant illustrations into two blocks of one hundred pictures which he called „Zenturien“. For most of the illustrations he also wrote commentaries which he combined as separate text with references to the page numbers of the illustrations. These explanations are of exceptional importance because they give insight into the contemporary natural science and culture. In contrast to the illustrations in the Princely herbal book, Kentmann’s Italian watercolours are distinguished not by their aesthetic-artful qualities but more by the scientific demand to show the botanical details as clearly as possible. During his stay in Italy Kentmann had many opportunities to draw plants little known north of the Alps.

[1] For the following descriptions see Dominic Olariu: „Johannes Kentmann und der Kodex Kentmanus. Bilder im Netzwerk der Naturkunde im 16. Jahrhundert”, in: Jürgen Herzog (Hg.): Johann Kentmann und die Torgauer Gärten, Markkleeberg: Sax-Verlag (in print); Sachiko Kusukawa: „Image, Text and Observatio: The Codex Kentmanus“, in: Early Science and Medicine 14, 2009, pp. 445–475; Johannes Helm: Johannes Kentmann 1518–1574. Ein sächsischer Arzt und Naturforscher (Sudhoff‘s Archiv. Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Beiheft 13), Wiesbaden 1971.

[1] Kodex Kentmanus, MS Fol 323; „Zenturien” und Kommentare: fol. 9r–138r.

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1543 one in Pisa. He was, during the absence of the Prefect, bestowed with the honour of being in charge of the garden for several weeks from May 1548. He also travelled regularly to different parts of Italy and drew interesting flora. Even after his return to Germany Kentmann drew little known plants which he discovered on his walks in Saxony and added them to his two „Zenturien“.The two Zenturien of plant illustrations and the commentaries could only have been completed after March 1551 since Kentmann describes the opening of the purple flowers of Lunaria, which he brought back as seed from Apulia at the end of this month. [1]


Kentmann‘s plant illustrations caused a big sensation on his return from the South because of their uniqueness. Several of the most renowned botanists in the German speaking world of the 16th century made an effort to see them. Among the best known figures were the luminaries Conrad Gessner from Zurich and Leonhardt Fuchs from Tübingen, both physicians, and the Nuremberg apothecary Georg Öllinger, all of which copied the illustrations of the „Zenturien“ for their own purposes. It is therefore not surprising that Kentmann used a large number of his Italian watercolours  which were not only celebrated amongst experts, but were depicting plants for which there simply existed no other image sources in the German speaking world and likely beyond, for the herbal book intended for the Elector August


MS Fol 323, fol. 124v. The year „1549“ on the title pages before the two „Zenturien“ only specify the time when Kentmann started to put his plant illustrations in order and to write his commentaries.
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Prominent among these illustrations is Kentmann’s depiction of a tulip (plate 1) which Kentmann named Tulipa turcica and which David Redtel reproduced almost unaltered (plate 76v). It is considered to be the oldest known depiction of a tulip. The tulip can be identified as Tulipa sylvestris. According to current research this species was originally native to North Africa and Southern Europe. During Kentmann’s time it was unknown north of the Alps. Undoubtedly Kenntmann thought of it as one of the tulip species which we know originated in the Near East and which were imported en mass into Europe in the second half of the 16th century.

Therefore Kentmann labeled it the „Turkish tulip“. The fact that Kentmann knew of the importing of tulips from the East shows that they had reached Italy not later than 1549.

An investigation of the precise number of Redtel‘s illustrations is still to come. At least some copies unambigously point to a frequent recourse to the Italian drawings and allow the conclusion that precisely these plants were unknown in Saxony – otherwise Redtel would not have taken them on. 

[1] About Kentmann’s tulip see recently, Anastasia Stefanaki et al.: „The Story of the Tulip That Went Wild: Tracing the History of Introduction of Tulipa Sylvestris in Sixteenth-Century Europe”, in: Scientific Reports. <30.12.2021>. The origin of the tulip illustrations by Fuchs in chart 1 have to be set at a later date.

[1] GRIN Taxonomy for Plants: <30.12.2021>.

[1] For the history of tulips in Europe see Mike Dash: Tulipomania. The story of the world’s most coveted flower and the extraordinary passion it aroused, London 1999, although he does not describe the circumstances around Kentmann’s tulip accurately; Anna Pavord: Die Tulpe. Eine Kulturgeschichte, Frankfurt a. M. 2001.

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plasticity and adding more details, the following pages are linked to each other: Charaties (Umbilicus horizontalis), native to Italy (plate 2); Recht Hauslob aus Alexandria (Aeonium arboreum), according to Kentmann brought back from Alexandria (plate 3); Indianische Feigen (Opuntia), according to Kentmann from India (plate 4); Gel Wolriechend Narzissus, a second illustration of a wild tulip which Kentmann did not recognize as such and to which Redtel added the bud correctly, surely on the instruction of Kentmann (plate 5); Dreierley klein Leberblum, the two upper ones were drawn by Kentmann in Italy, the lower one in Hungary (plate 6); the right stem of Gros Leberblum, which Kentmann drew in Meißen (plate 7); Rhabarbarum, which Kentmann drew in Rome (plate 8).
The first number is the folio number in the „Zenturien“, followed by the number in the princely herbal book: 72r–217v, 74v–177r, 78r–35r, 82v–67r, 73r-260v; 73v-260r; 93v-256r.