A masterpiece of pomology

Excerpt from the book 'Pomona Britannica' by George Brookshaw.

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Pomology - The science of fruits

Today virtually everyone knows the names of the common and popular apple varieties, such as Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. But this has not always been the case. By the end of the 18th century thousands of different varieties of fruits were being cultivated, yet horticulturists and hobby gardeners had very little information about them. Knowing their names and other scant details was not enough to distinguish with certainty between the individual varieties. One consequence of this was that among the countless varieties of English apples a single variety could be known by several names - and these names differed not just from county to county, but even between neighbouring towns. Older fruit varieties were continually being reintroduced under different names and proclaimed as new strains of improved quality. Even inferior varieties resembling cultivated stocks were successfully passed off as the better-quality fruits. To make some sense of this confusion a special branch of botany was developed in the 18th century. It is referred to as experimental pomology. This study of fruit growing and the different varieties was the first stage of the science of pomology, which only established itself in the second half of the 19th century. Not only horticulturists and nurserymen but also hobby gardeners and fruit lovers focused on describing, identifying and systematically classifying the various kinds of fruits. Books about fruit farming presented both established and new varieties in words and pictures. More specialized works on fruit varieties also emerged, which are referred to as pomonas. With the dawning of the 19th century came a blossoming of elaborately illustrated pomological print editions. The Pomona Britannica by George Brookshaw (published in 1812) is the most comprehensive English publication and its hand-coloured prints are regarded as among the best ever made.

George Brookshaw's life and work

The Englishman George Brookshaw was born in Birmingham in 1751 and died in Greenwich near London in February 1823. Very little is known about his childhood, youth and training; nor is much known about his later life. Not even a portrait of him has survived. It is entirely possible that Brookshaw received instruction in art from his brother Richard Brookshaw (1736-c. 1804), who was an engraver by profession. Richard was particularly well versed in the printing techniques of mezzotint and copperplate engraving - his engraved portraits after paintings by other artists made his name known beyond the British Isles. At the close of the 18th century he was even able to establish himself in Paris as a copperplate engraver.

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Allegory of Horticulture, 1769. A.L. Wirsing, copperplate engraving after a drawing by S. Wale