(Left) O flos sic vernans iuvenili aetate pudorem / Oh how you flourish shyly flower, the modesty of youth
(Right) Flos speculum vitae modo vernat et interat aura / The flower mirrors life; it blooms and perishes in the air
In the late Renaissance, artists of the Low Countries (particularly Germany and the Netherlands) began producing emblemata: allegorical prints with moralising captions. Often collected in a volume, the pairings of realistic illustrations and pithy proverbs were published as emblem books, and became a hugely popular synthesis of beauty and wisdom. The work of Flemish engraver Johann Theodor de Bry (1561-1623) is an excellent example of two contemporary trends: the prevalence of botanic subjects, and Reformation-inspired epigrams.
In the late 1500s, the illustrator produced a rare series of six still-life floral prints, titled Polyptoton de Flores (The Variance of Flowers). The captions are scripted in Latin hexameter, and derive their lessons from various phases of a plant's life cycle. Exquisitely illustrated in typical Dutch fashion, the ornate vases are decorated with grotesques and garlands, and the detailed bouquets are accompanied by insects and spiders.
(Left) Floris imago fugax rapidi nos admonit aevi / The fleeting presence of a flower warns us of a rapid lifetime
(Right) Florem si ostendet feret ipso tempore fructum / Like the flower, we will bear fruit in our own good time
(Left) A flore accipias honeste vivere discas / The flower teaches us to live honourably
(Right) Flori par invenis tener est crescentibus annis / A flower is like youth in the bloom of life