The Culture of Camellias

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Island 4: Berlèse's Iconographie and Nouvelle Iconographie

The first great European camellia book: the Baumanns 
"Camellia rubra plena," 
from Carl Baumann; Napoléon Baumann, 
Bollweilerer Camellien-Sammlung dem ... A.P. de Candolle. 4 parts in 1. 
Bollweiller: [s.n.], 1828-35.

The rubra plena or double red camellia had first been imported to Britain in 1794 by Sir Robert Preston. This book shows the spread of the camellia craze from Britain to France and Germany. The German-speaking Baumann brothers illustrated 49 different varieties that they had grown at their nursery at Bollweiler, in the upper Rhine area of France, and this work appeared in both German and French editions.

Classifying camellia varieties: the Abbé Berlese 
Lorenzo Berlèse, 1784-1863, "Tableau synoptique du couleurs du genre Camellia," 
from his Monographie du genre Camellia: . . dans l'autre sont peintes, en deux gammes ascendants, les nuances des couleurs propres aux Camellia connus, avec leurs dénominations spécifiques. 2nd edition. [Paris]: L. Bouchard-Huzard, 1840. 
shown with "Anemoneforme: Camellia Chandlerii elegans," from Berlèse, Monographie du genre Camellia : traité complet sur sa culture avec la description et la classification de chaque variété. 3rd edition. 
Paris: Chez H. Cousin, 1845.

The Abbé Berlese (1784-1863) was the greatest camellia scholar of the nineteenth century. Though he was born and died in Italy, Berlèse carried out his magisterial studies in Paris, where his private wealth allowed him to establish his own greenhouses. The first edition of this book, published in 1837, began to establish a formal classification system for camellia varieties. His first classification efforts focused on color, not flower-form, and one of the biggest problems in color-description in the 19th century was that expensive engraved books were handcolored, with inevitable variations of shade or tint. The color chart from his second edition was Berlèse's ultimately-doomed attempt to provide a single standard for color descriptions.

By his third edition, Berlèse based his developed classification system on flower-form. This plate is one of seven illustrating the main flower shapes that European growers had developed. Alfred Chandler's Chandlerii elegans had first been described in the catalogue he did with William Booth in 1831. By this third edition, Berlèse was listing 701 varieties.

Berlèse's Iconographie 
J.J. Jung, illus., 
"Camellia Mazeppa," 
from Lorenzo Berlèse, 1784-1863 Iconographie du genre Camellia; ou, Description et figures des camellia les plus beaux et les plus rares: peints d'après nature. 3 vols. 
Paris: Chez H. Cousin, 1841-43.

One of the Abbé Berlese's most influential projects was the huge three-volume set of camellia illustrations, the Iconographie, covering 300 varieties, that he initiated with J.J. Jung in 1841 The early history of the camellia, its importation from the East, and its association with aristocratic patronage, contrasts sharply with the flower's increasingly raffish social connotations in nineteenth-century France. The variety shown here was named for the hero of one of Lord Byron's poems. Perhaps the best-known literary reference to camellias is Alexander Dumas's La dame aux camelias (1849), the basis for Verdi's opera La Traviata (1853). Soon after the completion of this work, in 1846, the Abbe himself abandoned camellias; in 1846, quite unexpectedly, he sold off the whole of his huge camellia collection to a commercial garden enterprise, gave up the studies that had made him famous, and returned to Italy.

The camellia in Italy 
Luigi Colla, 1766-1848, 
Camelliografia, ossia, Tentativo di una nuova disposizione naturale della variet… della camellia del Giappone e loro descrizione
Torino: G. Pomba, 1843.

Parts of Italy were ideal for growing camellias, and this is one of the earliest Italian camellia books. The two plates here, the only illustrations in the volume, illustrate the parts of the flower used to distinguish varieties, and the stages of fruit, seed and germination.

The center of 19th century European camellia development 
"Vue d'une partie de l'Etablissement horticole d' Amb. Verschaffelt," 
from L'Illustration Horticole, Journal Special des Serres et des Jardins, vol. 1 (1854). 
Gand: Imprimerie et Lithographie de F. et E. Gyselynck.

This illustration of the Verschaffelt nursery greenhouses, in Belgium, from another long-running Verschaffelt periodical series, shows graphically the huge horticultural industry that grew up in the 19th century to meet the constant demand for new varieties of flowers and shrubs. The firm had been founded in 1825 by the grandfather Alexandre, who was succeeded by his son and grandson, both named Ambroise.

The Verschaffelts: European camellia illustration after Berlèse 
"Camellia Principessa Rospigliosi," 
from Ambroise Alexandre Verschaffelt, 1825-1886, ed., 
Nouvelle iconographie des camellias: contenant les figures et la description des plus rares, des plus nouvelles et des plus belles variétés de ce genre. Vol. 4 (1853). 13 vols. 
Gand: Verschaffelt, 1848-60.

Continuing Berlèse's work in his huge Iconographie was this much more manageable (but much longer-running) series, theNouvelle Iconographie, issued in monthly parts by a major Belgian nursery, Verschaffelts.

Naming camellias for the heroes of European nationalism 
"Camellia Kossuth," 
from Ambroise Alexandre Verschaffelt, 1825-1886, ed., 
Nouvelle iconographie des camellias: contenant les figures et la description des plus rares, des plus nouvelles et des plus belles variétés de ce genre. 13 vols. Gand: Verschaffelt, 1848-60. Vol.6 (1857)

While the majority of early 19th century camellia varieties were named for aristocratic patrons or commercial growers, a feature of the years after 1848, the year of nationalist revolutions, is the naming of a new variety after a national hero or leader. The Verschaffelts' varieties included, for instance, one named for the Italian nationalist hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Louis or Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894) was the patriot leader who had fought in vain for Hungarian independence in 1848.



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