Ancient beauty of the rose unfolds in display
If you ask the first 10 people you see what their favorite flower is, we're betting the trend of centuries will hold, and roses will come out on top.
And so is the Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden, which will extend the season for these beloved flowers with "Genus Rosa," a display of rare books about roses through Nov. 13.
The two -- roses and rare books -- both have a delicate appeal. Roses are incredibly beautiful with showstopping color and soft, often complex construction. A rare book exudes mystery -- who wrote it, how was it published, where has it been all these years?
Leora Siegel, director of the library, is happy to enlighten.
The centerpiece of this small exhibit isn't a book and isn't owned by the library. But the three large plates, or pages, do inspire Siegel to tell stories of Josephine, Napoleon Bonaparte's empress.
Early in the 19th century she created a rose garden at Chateau de Malmaison just outside Paris. Despite war with Britain, embargoes and blockades, Napoleon and an English nurseryman made sure Josephine got her roses.
Eventually she hired Pierre-Joseph Redoute, renowned Belgian painter, to capture the flowers.
Redoute published 168 flower pictures, about half of them from Malmaison, and his widow published five more after his death.
Two roses from the posthumous work, "Bouquet Royale," glow in the Botanic Garden exhibit. Fortsas Books in Chicago loaned the library Adelaide, a coral and white rose, and Clementine, white with yellow. Viewers will notice that the Clementine plate has been cleaned, said Siegel.
Redoute was known for the stipple or dotted effect in his engravings, different from the appearance of lines we are accustomed to in engravings. This technique suits flowers very well, but reportedly required multiple engraving plates.
One of the prettiest pictures in the library's exhibit is in a book by a student of Redoute, Madame Henriette Antoinette Vincent, who also mastered the stipple effect.
Gardeners can still plant flowers like Vincent's pink-and-rose-colored Cent Feuilles in "The Études de Fleurs et de Fruits," published in 1820. Fewer than five copies survive, but the Chicago Botanic Garden has digitized its volume, and it is online at rarebookroom.org.
In 1656, John Parkinson wrote "Paradisi in Sole," which Siegel points out translates to a pun ("park in sun") of the author's name.
The picture on display here is Versicolor, a variegated rose showing a mix of red and white to make a reddish, pink bloom striped with white. This is tied with England's famous Wars of the Roses over 30 years starting in 1455 because the House of Lancaster's supporters wore badges with a red rose, and those behind York wore white ones. The Versicolor represents the end of the conflicts and the blending of these two warring factions. And the rose is still in cultivation 300 years later.
The oldest book in the exhibit dates from 1590 and is a very thick tome of 2,300 woodcuts of plants named "Neuwe Kreuterbuch." While Jacobus Theodorus, also called Tabernaemontanus after his hometown, was interested in medicinal uses of plants, he is known as the father of German botany, and his book includes several pages of roses. The book, which is almost a field guide, was published in Latin and German in Frankfurt. The library is digitizing this copy.
These books do not come on the market very often, but it is not unusual to see a few thousand dollars paid for a single plate from someone like Redoute.
For another way to appreciate these blooms, the botanic garden has planted a flower bed celebrating the history of roses.
"Next summer it will look spectacular," said Siegel. "It features old roses you might not see these days. And many appreciate looking and smelling the older varieties."
If you goWhat: "Genus Rosa," an exhibit of rare books featuring roses
Where: Lenhardt Library, Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake-Cook Road, Glencoe
When: Through Nov. 13
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed holidays
Information: Admission is free; parking $20, free for members
Call: (847) 835-5440 or visit chicagobotanic.org