11 September 2018

A museum in paper: fungi illustrations

With Kew’s State of the World’s Fungi Symposium taking place this week, it seems the perfect time to take a look at some of the fungi illustrations held in our collections.

By Julia Buckley

Cortinariaceae fungi - Blue Cortinarius

A delicate collection

These beautifully bound time-worn volumes are both inscribed with the title ‘Icones Fungorum Ineditorium’.

Kew Bulletin notes their accession to the Collection at Kew in 1896, describing them as containing nearly 1,250 illustrations.

It records little about the context for the work, remarking only that the specimens illustrated are described in Italian and ‘…there is little doubt that the artist was Italian’ (Kew Bulletin, 1896, pp31-32).

Some of the drawings are especially fragile. such as this oversize image where the illustration has been folded to fit the dimensions of the book.

Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzi

In fact, these illustrations date from the 17th century and have an illustrious history, thought to be early copies of part of the venerated Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzi (1588-1646). Cassiano belonged to Europe’s first modern scientific academy, the Accademia dei Lincei, founded by Federico Cesi, Duca di Acquasparta (1585-1630). It counted Galileo among its members!

In common with the interests of the Academy, Cassiano envisaged a ‘paper museum’ of drawings that would document antiquities and natural history subjects.

He set about commissioning more than 7,000 illustrations for the Museum and around 2,500 of these were of flora and fauna (Alexandratos, 2007).

Today the Royal Collection and the British Museum, among others, hold material relating to Cassiano’s Museum. The fungi illustrations at Kew appear to be copies of those at the Institut de France, Paris (Ubrizsy 1980).

Various fungi are depicted, including Agaricus.  Some of the illustrations bear original descriptions.

Artist: unknown

The artists responsible for the works are unrecorded, apart from Vincenzo Leonardi (fl.1621-c.1646) who is known to have illustrated some of the natural history subjects and is thought to be responsible for the fungi illustrations at Kew (Freedberg).

Passed from pope to cardinal

The Museum drew the attention of scholars from across the globe and in 1703 it came into the possession of Pope Clement XI and subsequently his nephew Cardinal Alessandro Albani (1692-1779).

The volumes at Kew were purchased from the Sforza family in Rome in 1845 by Charles D. Badham (1806-57). He sent them to the mycologist, the Reverend M.J. Berkeley, for identification and some of Berkeley’s notes can be seen annotating the fungi depicted.

Other marks on the works include numbers which Rea Alexandratos suggests possibly relate to a lost inventory for the Collection.

Missing piece

Although Kew holds two copies of Cassiano’s fungi there is known to have been a third, described in a letter to Kew from P.A. Saccordo in 1899. The whereabouts of this third volume are unknown…

The importance of the Paper Museum in the timeline of the scholarly documentation of natural history is well recognized and Kew is fortunate to hold these works in its Collection;

‘Cassiano’s Paper Museum remains one of the most impressive manifestations of the new spirit of empirical investigation that transformed the study of natural history in the seventeenth century’. (Alexandratos, 2007, p105)

Kew has launched the ground-breaking State of the World’s Fungi report - the first of its kind.


Kew Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (1896). HMSO, London. (pp. 31-32)
Freedberg, D. (1993) 'The paper museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo'. London, 1993, (pp.141-222)
Attenborough, D. (2007) 'Amazing rare things : The art of natural history in the age of discovery'.
Alexandratos, R. 'The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo'. London: Royal Collection.
The Warburg Institute - 'The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo' (09/2018)
Elliott, B. (2015) 'The paper museum of Cassiano del Pozzo. Flora : Federico Cesi's botanical manuscripts'
London : Royal Collection Trust in association with Harvey Miller Publishers

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