Manipulating Flora. Gardens as Laboratories in the Renaissance and Early Modern Europe

Date: 21-22 January 2016.

Place: The Institute for Research in the Humanities of the University of Bucharest (IRH-UNIBUC).

Invited speakers: Antonio Clericuzio (Roma Tre), Florike Egmond (Leiden University), Alette Fleischer (Amsterdam University), Hiro Hirai (Radboud University Nijmegen), Cesare Pastorino (TU Berlin), Doina-Cristina Rusu (University of Bucharest).

Organizers: Fabrizio Baldassarri, Dana Jalobeanu, Oana Matei.

Website: Although plants are pivotal in the understanding of nature because of their position between inert matter and living bodies, botany played a minor role during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was often subsidiary to medicine (generally used for therapeutics) or immersed in the demanding labour of natural collecting. Yet botanical practice developed alongside the rise of early modern philosophy and science, as a subject of lively debates and controversies, collections and dissemination, alchemical investigations, experimental collaborations, and philosophical revolutions. Particularly, experiments with plants were significant in seventeenth century Europe, since they concerned the manipulation of various processes such as generation, vegetation, and growth, all of which reshaped the Aristotelian approach into a new systematization of nature. These practices involved a wide range of men and women – botanist, alchemists, physicians, natural philosophers, and natural magicians – whose work aimed at serving various purposes. Botany therefore developed as a central subject for disseminating knowledge and collecting information regarding the natural world, manipulating hidden qualities, providing remedies for diseases, and completing the mechanization of natural philosophy. Botany plays an overlooked role in shaping early modernity. Because philosophers, scholars, experimenters, physicians and botanists moved between public horti botanici and (secret or) private gardens, this workshop seeks original contributions exploring the connection between experiments with plants and the emergence of modern science and philosophy. Our focus will be on the influences of experimentation with plants in natural philosophy, but also in the development of particular sciences. Wide-ranging contributions discussing the art(s) of experimentation with plants, or exploring the collaborative dimension of the processes of botanical (and physiological) knowledge are welcome, as long as they help to reveal the significant status of manipulating nature through botanical studies.

Researchers from various areas are invited to submit proposals by the 15th of October including the author’s name, affiliation, a short CV, and contact information (the email address), the paper title (15-word maximum), an abstract (250-word maximum), and a short bibliography (up to 5 works). Submit proposals via email to Please, ask session organizers Fabrizio Baldassarri ( and Oana Matei ( or visit for more information.


Program (please visit the conference website for the most up to date program):

Thursday  21 January:

09.00 – Reception: Location, Botanical Garden, Council Hall

09.15 – Welcome Address from Authorities and the Minister of Culture of Romania

Session title: Botanical Experimentation: Collectors, Therapists, Magicians, Naturalists (pt.1)

09.45 – “Garden experimentation by 16th-century naturalists and collectors, and its role in the development of botany as a science”, Florike Egmond (Leiden University)

10.45 – “Botánica to botica. Translation and Localization of Botanical and Pharmaceutical Knowledge in 16th-century Spain”, María M. Carrión (Emory University)

11.30 – Coffee Break & Visit to the Greenhouses of the Botanical Garden

12.45 – “Plants and Signatures in Paracelsian Magic, Chymistry and Science”, Hiro Hirai(Radboud University)

13.45 – Lunch Break

Session title: Botanical Experimentation: Collectors, Therapists, Magicians, Naturalists (pt.2)

Location, Botanical Garden, Council Hall

15.15 – “Plants as Scientific Instruments in Natural Magic and Natural Philosophy”,Doina-Cristina Rusu (University of Bucharest)

16.15 – “From recipes to creative experiments: tests, trials and learning by doing in Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum”, Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest)

17.00 – Coffee Break

17.30 – “Complexio and periculum in Federico Cesi’s botanical writings and drawings”,Luigi Guerrini (Galileo Museum)

18.15 – “Mastering the method of experimentation in the Hartlib Circle: the case of vegetation”, Oana Matei (Vasile Goldiş University of Arad)


Friday 22 January:

09.00 – Reception: Location, Botanical Garden, Council Hall

Session title: Gardens as Laboratories: Microscopes and Books

09.15 – “Fructiferous Experiments: the Baconian Garden as a Laboratory”, Cesare Pastorino (TU Berlin)

10.15 – “Experimenting with ‘Garden Discours’: Growing knowledge in Thomas Browne’s Garden of Cyrus”, Sarah Cawthorne (University of York)

11.00 – “Of the beard of a wild oat. Cavendish and Hooke on the microscope”, Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University/University of Bucharest)

11.45 – Coffee Break & Visit to the Museum of the Botanical Garden

Session title: Mechanical or Chemical Vegetation. From Kircher to Boyle

12.45 – “Plant palingenesis in 17th-century England”, Antonio Clericuzio (Roma Tre)

13.45 – Lunch Break

Location, Botanical Garden, Council Hall

15.15 – “Athanasius Kircher and vegetal magnetism”, Lucie Čermáková (Charles University)

16.00 – “René Descartes and the mechanization of nature. Vegetative Soul/Vegetative Power”, Fabrizio Baldassarri (Forschungszentrum Gotha/Institute for Research in the Humanities)

16.45 – Coffee Break

Session title: Gardens in Europe

17.15 – “Building gardens with meanings. The symbolical role of vegetation in the creation of landscape design in Eastern and Western Europe”, Alexandru Mexi(University of Bucharest/Vasile Goldiş University of Arad)

18.00 – “The changing nature of archiving plants”, Alette Fleischer (Amsterdam University)