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Botanical art timeline

Today we take for granted the intrinsic beauty of plants and especially their flowers and yet this aesthetic appreciation seems to have been late to develop: it was abstract designs, symbols, animals, and human figures that feature in Palaeolithic art. Perhaps the lack of stains and dyes was a constraining factor.

The world’s earliest rock art is found at Carpenter’s Gap in Australia’s Kimberley region and has been dated to at least 42,700 BP, pre-dating the 32,000 year old palaeolithic cave paintings of Western Europe by at least 10,000 years. It depicts animals, humans and yams, this being the first known pictorial representation of plants by Homo sapiens and, amazingly, it is found on the other side of the world from where Homo sapiens evolved. Prior to this discovery the earliest illustrations in Australia were the anthropomorphic yam people depicted in rock art at Deaf Adder Creek, Arnhem Land.[3]

The earliest European representational art is found in the Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche region of France and dates to about 32,000 BP.[2] However, the methods for dating rock art, though highly sophisticated, still remain controversial and the dating of Australian rock art to the Palaeolithic remains doubtful.[1]

The development of the human skills in the diverse modes of plant representation is a fascinating reflection of the historical development of science and technology. The twentieth century saw myriad new imaging techniques at high resolution. Just a few of these that helped bring the microscopic structure of plants to the world are mentioned here.

Of the most recent developments computational photography, or digital image capture have probably had the greatest impact on daily life.

In very general terms we see the following transition: line engraving (embossing, petroglyph) and drawing (charcoal, pencil, ink, crayon), painting, sculpture, etching (aquatint, photoetching), photography (black & white, colour, motion, digital), electronic or digital imagery.

The article includes advances in the technologies associated with botanical art.



2,500,000 BCE Tool Culture of knapping Emergence of Clactonian culture of European flint tool manufacture
700,000-290,000 – First known prehistoric rock art as Petroglyphs at Bhimbetka and and Daraki-Chattan Cave, Madhya Pradesh, Central India, including stone figurine Venus of Berekhat Ram
540,000 – 430,000 – Trinil, Java, engraved patterns on shell by Homo erectus
60,000 – Engraved hatched banding on ostrich shell by Homo sapiens in the Diepkloof Rock Shelter, South Africa


100,000-70,000 – Earliest African art as Venus of Tan-Tan figurine
70,000 – Blombos Cave engravings with cross-hatch designs on ochre rocks
60,000 – Diepkloof eggshell engravings, Africa’s next oldest art. Neanderthal prehistoric artists create the La Ferrassie Cave Cupules


40,000 – Aurignacian art – the beginning of cave art around the world
39,000 – Abstract symbols red dots/disks and hand stencils) – see El Castillo Cave paintings
38,000 – Ivory carving known as the Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel. Earliest Asian art as Sulawesi Cave art in Indonesia
37,000 – Venus figurines miniature carvings of obese female figures with exaggerated body parts and genitalia
35,000 – Fumane Cave paintings, the world’s oldest figurative pictures. Abri Castanet engravings, the oldest cave art in France
33,000-30,000 – Animal & figurative carvings, like: Swabian Jura ivory carvings (Vogelherd cave)
30,000 – Venus of Galgenberg (Stratzing Figurine). First known cave painting appears in France, Chauvet cave paintings in the Ardeche Valley; Ubirr rock painting in Arnhem Land, Australia, Burrup Peninsula rock engravings in the Pilbara Kimberley rock art
26,000 – Nawarla Gabarnmang charcoal drawing in Arnhem Land
25,000 – Venus of Dolni Vestonice, first ceramic figurine, Romania. Earliest work of ceramic art
18,000 – Xianrendong Cave Pottery – oldest known ancient pottery from Jiangxi, China
17,000 – Lascaux cave paintings of Franco-Cantabrian Cave Art, and engraving in caves of Le Roc-de-Sers Cave Engravings, La Tete du Lion and Spanish Cave of La Pasiega; Aboriginal Bradshaw paintings frst appear in the Kimberley, Western Australia
13,-14,000 – Panaramitee Style, also known as track and circle or Classic Panaramitee, is a particular type of pecked engravings found in Australian rock art named after a site in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. It depicts a variety of animal tracks including those of macropods, birds and humans as well as radiating designs, circles, spots, crescents and spirals.


9,500 – Argentina Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands), stencils, paintings, Mesolithic art in the Americas. Clovis culture artifacts at Fell’s Cave Patagonia and Blackwater Draw in eastern New
8,200 – South African Wonderwerk Cave engravings of geometric designs, ideograms, animals, South Africa


8,000 – Tassili-n-Ajjer rock art, Algerian paintings and petroglyphs; Ancient Persian pottery from Ganj Dareh (Valley of Treasure). Jiahu turquoise carvings, bone flutes, Henan Province China
7,500 – Shigir Idol, the world’s oldest surviving wood carving of a human figure
7000-2000 Chinese Neolithic Art as ceramic pottery. Oven-fired pottery in Mesopotamia in farming communities
5,500 – Goddess terracotta figurine at Catal Huyuk, Anatolia, as religious art; Egyptian bone, ivory, stone figurines from Naquada I Period
5,000 – Persian Chalcolithic pottery
4500-539 Sumerian Art and Mesopotamian art


4,000 – 2,500 – Jade carving begins in China, Chinese lacquerware and silk production. First megalithic architecture, in Portugal (from 5,000); Breton Cairn of Barnenez (from 4,450); the tombs and monuments of Carrowmore, Cuil Irra Peninsula, Ireland (from 4,300). Building of Stonehenge stone circle begins (c.2,600 BCE)
3,500 – Mesopotamian civilization in region of today’s Iraq, Uruk the first city-state Ancient Persian art of Susa and Persepolis. Bronze sculptures produced in the Maikop culture of the Russian North Caucasus. Sumerian civilization in S. Iraq with writing as hieroglyphs), ziggurats with clay fired bricks
3,200 – Cuneiform script; Egyptian art and civilization begins


3,200 – Metallurgy yields copper-and-tin bronze sculpture in the Indus Valley Civilization of India Egyptians create first wall paintings in tombs; copper-working begins in southern France. Emergence of Beaker culture in Europe (named after their distinctive drinking vessels)
3,100 – Egyptian wall paintings and bas-reliefs
2,660 – Statues, pyramids like Great Pyramid at Giza (2550), Sphinx (2550)
2,500 – Mesopotamian sculpture of gold-leaf, copper, lapis lazuli; Aegean Art in eastern Mediterranean
2,000 – ‘X-ray’ Aboriginal rock art in Arnhem Land; Xia Dynasty culture, China; Minoan Palaces built & rebuilt on Crete
1,750 – Sophisticated Chinese art
1,700 – Hittite and Assyrian art of Iraq
1,600 – Mycenaean civilisation flourishes in Greece. Glass making perfected in Mesopotamia
1530-1500 – Temple complex of Karnak to god Amon at Thebes


1200 – Pre-Columbian art in Meso- and South America
1,184 – China, Sanxingdui Bronzes appear in Sichuan province
1,050-221 Geometric style Greek Pottery
900 – Zhou Dynasty art, the last period of Bronze Age culture in ancient China
800-700 – Hallstatt style of geometric designs followed by Celtic curvilinear spirals, zoomorphsof La Tene (450)
600 -> – Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Etruscan art influences Roman art that feeds into the modern era


0-100 – Engraving of images on glass
220 – Woodcut or woodblock printing used throughout East Asia but originating in China, used first on textiles and later on paper. Earliest record in China is of silk printed with flowers in three colours from the Han Dynasty (pre 220). In the 13th century the technique was transmitted to Europe
1200s – Paper technology transmitted from China to Europe via Islamic Spain and manufactured in Italy by the end of the thirteenth century, France and Germany by the end of the fourteenth century
1400s – Etching – strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio (incised) in the metal of armour, guns, cups and plates
1430s – Metal engraving Germany, on copper used to make prints on paper, soon spreading round Europe becoming highly sophisticated from 1470 to 1530 used by artists like Albrecht Dürer
1461 –Woodcut published book illustration by Albrecht Pfister of Bamberg a few years after the introduction of movable type
1796 – Alois Senefelder invemts lithography where an image in oil, fat, or wax is transferred onto a limestone or metal plate
1839 – Louis Daguerre – Daguerrotypes – permanent photographs on silver-plated copper sheets – Talbot introduced a paper-based product in the same year as ‘photogenic drawing’ but it was less defined
1861 – James Maxwell creates an additive color image using the three-color method
1878 – Eadweard Muybridge first motion pictures of galloping horse
1888 – Kodak box camera introduced
1889 – celluloid roll film introduced by Eastman
1902 – Arthur Korn -Images transferred electronically
1907 – Autochrome, first commercial colour photography introduced
1913 – Kodak panchromatic motion picture film commercially available
1914 – The World, the Flesh and the Devil, in Kinemacolor, first feature film in color
1925 – Leica introduces 35 mm format for still photography
1932 – Flowers and Trees, the first color cartoon in Technicolor by Disney
1931-33 – Electron microscope
1947 – Dennis Gabor invents holography
1948 – Edwin Land, first Polaroid instant camera
1957 – Russell Kirsch, first digital image produced on a computer
1959 – Ultrasound – displays screen images of tissues or organs formed by the echoes of inaudible high frequency sound waves (20,000 or more vibrations per second)
1960s – NASA creates digital images of the moon surface
1960 – Radioisotopes
1972 – Computerized Axial Tomography scanner (CAT scan) – cross-sectional views as well as three-dimensional images of internal organs and structures
1972 – Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) improved imaging of soft tissue than x-ray CAT
1975 – Steve Sasson of Eastman Kodak creates non-commercial prototype of a digital camera
1981 – Sony produces first commercial digital camera
1986 – Kodak introduces megapixels to digital cameras
1997 – Philippe Kahn first picture shared by cell phone
2009 – FujiFilm produces first digital 3D camera

First published on the internet – 1 March 2019

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