New publication from the Royal Collection: Mr Marshal's Flower Book

Release date: 
Thursday, 3 April 2008

Royal Collection Publications, 19 May 2008

£9.95 hardback
190 x 150mm
192 pages, 140 colour illustrations
ISBN 978-1-905686-03-2

This enchanting new publication celebrates the work of Alexander Marshal and his exquisite Florilegium, the only surviving example of a 17th-century English flower-book.  It takes the reader through a year in the life of an English garden, from the snowdrops and crocuses of early spring to autumnal gourds and Chinese lanterns.  Although little known today, Alexander Marshal was one of the most extraordinary botanical artists of his time.  Mr Marshal’s Flower Book, the first popular introduction to the artist’s life and work, will delight garden enthusiasts and art-lovers alike.
It is published to coincide with the exhibition Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace (until 28 September 2008), which has been curated in collaboration with the distinguished naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.

Alexander Marshal (c.1620-82) compiled his Florilegium over a period of
30 years and was still adding to it in the months before his death.  Surprisingly, he was not a professional artist, and the Florilegium was never intended for publication but purely for Marshal’s own enjoyment.  Marshal’s illustrations of 284 plant species include some 60 tulips, 30 roses,
60 carnations, 38 auriculas and 45 anemones.  The delicacy and accuracy of these remarkable plant portraits amazed his contemporaries, and the then newly formed Royal Society wrote to the artist asking how such a ‘trick’ was achieved.

The earliest record of Marshal’s life dates from 1641, when he was staying in the house of John Tradescant the Younger, the renowned gardener, plant-hunter and collector. By the 1650s Marshal had become part of a circle of gentleman gardeners and was living in Islington, where he helped import and trade plants for the Earl of Northampton.  From 1675 he lodged at Fulham Palace with the Earl’s brother, Henry Compton, Bishop of London, who was said to have over 1,000 species of exotic plants in his gardens.  It was here that Marshal found his inspiration.

Alexander Marshal lived at a time when new species and varieties of plants were being discovered around the world and introduced to England in ever-increasing numbers.  In the Florilegium simple native flowers, such as sweet briar and lady’s bedstraw, appear alongside exotic specimens, among them the crown imperial, recently brought to British soil from Constantinople.  Now a stalwart of the English garden, the yellow-trumpeted daffodil is referred to by Marshal as the ‘Spanish daffodil’.  The most fashionable and highly prized flowers were the striped and feathered tulips and the auriculas, over 1,000 varieties of which were cultivated in the 17th century.

Marshal chose to paint the plants as he found them, not as perfect specimens.  His flowers have blemished leaves, fallen petals and insects feeding off them.  A well-known entomologist in his day, he embellished the pages of the Florilegium with studies of insects, including moths, butterflies, beetles and caterpillars. Some sheets of the flower-book are decorated with miniatures of animals, others with striking trompe-l’oeil creatures – 
a grass snake slithers beneath a Seville orange, while a dead jay lies at the bottom of a page of delicate anemones and crocuses.

Mr Marshal’s Flower Book will be available from the Royal Collection shops at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse and from all good bookshops, price £9.95 (hardback).
Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace until 28 September 2008. Advance tickets from www.royalcollection.org.uk or +44 (0)20 7766 7323.

Further press information and photographs are available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, telephone: +44 (0)20 7839 1377,
e-mail: press@royalcollection.org.uk.