Vibrant citrus prints shine from new Taschen heavyweight coffee book

A heavyweight book from German publishing giant Taschen showcases citrus seen as celestial bodies has just been released and is an amazing record of a collection of beautiful, elegant prints made hundreds of years ago at a time when citrus was brightening up lives of wealthy people with an interest in horticulture.

Cover of the Taschen citrus work of art Copyright: © Stadtarchiv Fürth, Germany

Citrons, lemons, and bitter oranges float like heavenly bodies above Italian villas, Nuremberg gardens, and picturesque countryside in J. C. Volkamer’s ode to the citrus fruit. Reproducing a rare hand-coloured set of the copper plates, this publication shows 170 varieties of citrus fruits. Full of fragrance and colour, they revive a time when fruits really were exotic.

Copperplate designs

“Have you ever thought of citrus fruits as celestial bodies, angelically suspended in the sky? Perhaps not, but J. C. Volkamer (1644–1720) did, commissioning an extravagant and breathtaking series of large-sized copperplates representing citrons, lemons, and bitter oranges in surreal scenes of majesty and wonder, writes Taschen.

“Ordering plants by post mostly from Italy, Germany, North Africa, and even the Cape of Good Hope, the Nuremberg, Germany merchant Volkamer was a devotee of the fragrant and exotic citrus at a time when such fruits were still largely unknown north of the Alps. His garden came to contain a wide variety of specimens, and he became so obsessed with the fruits that he commissioned a team of copperplate engravers to create 256 plates of 170 varieties of citrus fruits, many depicted life size, published in a two-volume work. The first volume appeared in 1708, with the impressively lengthy title The Nuremberg Hesperides, or: A detailed description of the noble fruits of the citron, lemon and bitter orange; how these may be correctly planted, cared for and propagated in that and neighbouring regions.

“In both volumes, Volkamer draws on years of hands-on experience to present a far-reaching account of citrus fruits and how to tend them—from a meticulous walk-through of how to construct temporary orangeries, glasshouses, and hothouses for growing pineapples to commentary on each fruit variety, including its size, shape, colour, scent, tree or shrub, leaves, and country of origin.

Northern Italy and German landscape

“In each plate, Volkamer pays tribute to the verdant landscapes of northern Italy, his native Nuremberg, and other sites that captured his imagination. From Genovese sea views to the Schönbrunn Palace, each locale is depicted in the same exceptional detail as the fruit that overhangs it. We witness branches heavy with grapefruits arching across a sun-bathed yard in Bologna and marvel at a huge pineapple plant sprouting from a South American town. The result is at once a fantastical line-up of botanical beauty and a highly poetic tour through the lush gardens and places where these fruits grew.

“Few coloured sets of Volkamer’s work are still in existence today. This publication draws on the two recently discovered hand-coloured volumes in the city of Fürth’s municipal archive in Schloss Burgfarrnbach. The reprint also includes 56 newly discovered illustrations that Volkamer intended to present in a third volume”.

Landscapes of Italy and Germany

Just in time for Christmas, although it will set you back around £140 (£125), This first edition is limited to 5,000 copies and the editorial comes from Iris Lauterbach, a member of the research department of the Central Institute for Art History in Munich and teacher of garden architecture history at Munich’s Technical University.

The Hesperides presenting Noris, the personification of Nuremberg, with gifts of citrus fruits
Nürnbergische Hesperides. Copyright: © Stadtarchiv Fürth, Germany
Cedro grosso Bondolotto
Nuremberg.Copyright: © Stadtarchiv Fürth, Germany
Limea da Gallitia
Nuremberg, Pillenreuth – Ruins of the MonasteryCopyright: © Stadtarchiv Fürth, Germany
Pompelmus/ Grapefruit
Nuremberg, 1. Bärenschanze 2. Bleiweiß. 3. Infirmary. Copyright: © Stadtarchiv Fürth, Germany

Examples of citrus gardens in northern Europe around the mid-1700s

Bruce McMichael

Food writing, discovering food stories, meeting producers, chefs and food enthusiasts are all part of desire to inspire, inform my readers and fellow food lovers. I am a freelance writer, journalist and published author focusing on the international world of food and drink, culture and travel. In 2019 I graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Masters in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing. I am now a visiting Professor at the university teaching Food & Drink Writing. Based in London I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur. In 2017 I won an episode of the ITV (the UK-based national television channel) cooking competition show, 'Gordon Ramsay's Culinary Genius'. I took my children on holiday to Sicily with the prize money. As an experienced farmers' market manager and operator of a small marmalade/ preserves company, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding local food, farming, enterprise and the environment.