How to Color The World

In addition to classifying thousands of animals and plants, early naturalists faced an enormous challenge: accurately describing their colors. Antonio Martinez Ron describes how 18th and 19th century botanical illustrators addressed this essential problem.

In the spring of 2016, during a series of visits to the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid to learn about its archives and write about its wonderful herbarium , Esther García Guillén showed me a small notebook that they jealously guard in their facilities. It was a tiny book that survived a shipwreck and several voyages across oceans, jungles, and mountain ranges, a small botanical guide that experts continue to study with fascination today.

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A kind of master key to plant illustration, the best preserved and most valuable of the codes that served to color the newly discovered natural world: the famous "Color Chart" by Tadeo Haenke.

The reproductions you see here do not do it justice. The colors on the chart make a vivid impression when viewed in person.


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