Roses from the Bilderbuch für Kinder

Children’s books from the 18th and 19th centuries are endlessly fascinating – not least for what they reveal about adult attitudes towards children.  Today’s child-centered stories are very different to children’s literature from two hundred years ago, where the child reader is often assumed to be a miniature adult, with an adult’s outlook and sensibilities.

On the surface, Bilderbuch für Kinder or the Picture book for Children, published in Germany in 1802, might be seen as a classic example of this ‘mini adult’ genre.  The vast range of topics discussed in this encyclopedia including animals, butterflies, birds, ships, national costumes, Roman ruins and volcanoes are serious adult subjects certainly, but here are presented for children in a way that represents the best in educational literature.  Somehow the book levels with the reader, addressing children in straightforward language they can understand, and never patronising them.  There’s an assumption everything will be of equal interest to both boys and girls, and the scope of the subjects discussed shows genuine ambition for readers to understand and take delight in the world around them.

Bilderbuch für Kinder was published by Friedrich Justin Bertuch (1747 – 1822) who, as well as being a publisher and translator, also had a business making artificial flowers.  His picture book was published in monthly installments (like a magazine) from 1790 to 1830 and there are twelve volumes in all.  Bertuch’s personal interest in natural history is evident, with dozens of beautiful illustrations of insects, minerals, plants and animals with information about them.  It’s interesting to see that each subject commentary appears in German, French, English and Italian.  Perhaps this was partly to maximize sales across the four countries, but it also seems appropriate to a project discussing European knowledge and culture in its broadest sense.

The entries about roses may well be an example of adults projecting their own interests onto children, but are fascinating today for anyone interested in the development of the garden rose over the centuries.  At this point, a limited number of roses were available, although this was all about to change later in the 19th century as breeding new varieties became fashionable.

I hope you’ll get a sense of the extraordinary quality of the Bilderbuch für Kinder from the illustrations of the roses below.  With two roses featured in each plate, the character of each rose is expertly conveyed, from the buds, to the texture of the leaves and especially in the velvety tones of the darker blooms.  Unfortunately, I cannot discover who the artist was (there might be a signature at the bottom of some of plates, but too small to make out).  I’ve included the English descriptions of the individual roses where I have managed to find them, for their clarity and detail of description.

There are links to some digital versions of Bilderbuch für Kinder I’ve found at the bottom of the post – do have a look for yourselves.

Fig 1. The red Centifolia (Rosa centifolia Germanica), Fig 2. the white Centifolia (Rosa unica) All images from Archive.org

Fig 1. The yellow Centifolia (Rosa sulphurea), Fig 2. The double purple Rose (Rosa holoserica purpurea)

Fig 1. The little Centifolia (Rosa centifolia minor) Fig 2. The French Rose (Rosa turbinata)

Fig 1. and 2. The half double purple Rose (Rosa holoferica purpurea flore semi-pleno) shown at different times of the day.

Fig 1. The basilica Rose (Rosa damascena Basilica) fig 2. (Rosa lutea simplex)

Fig 1. and 2. (Rosa semperflorens)

Fig 1. The Fire-Rose (Rosa punicca) Fig 2. (Rosa truncata virginalis)

Fig 1. (Rosa regina rubicans) Fig 2. Large moss Rose (Rosa muscosa major)

Rosa gemella

Fig 1. Rosa millefolia rubra Fig 2. Rosa pendulina inermis

Fig 1. Rosa Damascena communis Fig 2. Rosa versicolor

Rosa Damascena grandiflora

Further reading:
The Internet Archive has two digitised collections of rose illustrations (and some text) from the fourth and fifth editions of Bilderbuch für Kinder.  I’ve also included links to digitised versions of the longer versions of Bilderbuch für Kinder as they are a delight and well worth dipping into.

Rosenbilder Vierter Band
Rose pictures with text in German and French (1802)

Rosenbilder Funfter Band
Rose pictures with text in German (1805)

Bilderbuch fur Kinder
This version at archive.org has the text about some of the roses in four languages – but no pictures of them.

Bilderbuch fur Kinder
This version is at the University of Heidelberg

Bilderbuch fur Kinder
Another version from the Hertzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek

Friedrich Justin Bertuch

2 thoughts on “Roses from the Bilderbuch für Kinder

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