Feast of fungi in the Forum Library

Published on
July 2, 2008

To celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the Dutch Mycological Society, the Special Collections Department of Wageningen UR Library has organized an exhibition in the Forum Library on larger fungi. The pieces on exhibit come from the library's special collections and include herbals and hand-coloured regional floras, botanical illustrations, nursery catalogues, wall charts and books on cultivation and cooking.

The first books on fungi were early illustrated herbals. Early on, medical doctors such as Dodoens and Clusius published herbals. These were large folio books on all known plants with a description of their uses in treating illness. At first, these books were illustrated with simple woodcuts. Later, with the advent of engraving and etching in the sixteenth century, the illustrations became more accurate. Empirical knowledge on local species was also gradually added to these books.

After the seventeenth century, herbals fell out of fashion, and botany was studied separately from the medical sciences. The vast amount of plants made it necessary to order and name plants properly. Emphasis was put on the study of plants and fungi of a certain region or country. Some of these works on regional plants from the eighteenth and nineteenth century are famous because of their beautiful hand-coloured illustrations. Regional flora such as the Flora Danica and Flora Batava are considered to be some of the world's greatest works on botany, true products of the Enlightenment era with premier examples of various printing and illustration techniques. The library is fortunate enough to own the unique collection of the original drawings for the Flora Batava's first 13 volumes, 7 of which have been beautifully bound and which alternate the original drawing with a print of the drawing.

During the Enlightenment, information on the cultivation and cooking of mushrooms began to appear in books on gardening and truffle hunting but also in recipe books. The cultivation of mushrooms was developed in France where Nicolas de Bonnefons wrote about it in 1650. Earlier botanical literature only briefly mentioned how to prepare edible fungi by cooking or frying them. Later, more elaborate recipes were given in treatises for landlords, which focused on how these gentlemen could live comfortably from the produce of their land, and in cookbooks for kitchen maids and housewives, which emphasised thriftiness.

The exhibition in the reading room of Special Collections in the Forum Library is open from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm till 31 December.

(newsletter 5-2008)