Home > History of Wine > 17th Century Watercolors of John Tradescant’s Grape Clusters

17th Century Watercolors of John Tradescant’s Grape Clusters


When it comes to online posts even those which are old by internet standards are still tremendously relevant in the long History of Wine.  BibliOdyssey’s recent Tweet from the archives led me to their 2007 post about Tradescant’s Orchard.  I immediately knew this could be vinous gold so I followed the links.  This led me to ‘Tradescant’s Orchard’: watercolours of garden fruits, arranged roughly by date of ripening; made perhaps in association with the elder John Tradescant,? 1620s originally published on the Bodleian Library website in 2000 then revised in 2003.  If the name Tradescant  at all sounds familiar in relationship to this blog it is because of my post Early Descriptions of the Vines and Grapes of Virginia and Canada.  John Tradescant the elder and his son John Tradescant the younger were gardeners and botanists in England who collected and cultivated specimens from around the world.  The Tradescant collection became open to the public and known as Musaeum Tradescantianum.  It eventually formed the nucleus of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University.  This is all relevant to the history of wine because the Tradescant’s cultivated dozens of different grape varieties.

Paradisi

In my previously mentioned post I included an image from John Parkinson’s Paradisi in Sole (1629) which I have also included in this post.  In this edition John Parkinson wrote that his friend John Tradescant had 20 varieties growing in his garden.  I never knew there were watercolors of John Tradescant’s grapes until I read the BibliOdyssey post.  These images were created after 1611, perhaps in the 1620s, for John Tradescant the elder.  The clusters of Parkinson and Tradescant bear a strong resemblance.  For example, at first glance Parkinson’s Burlet Grape #4 appears very similar to the watercolor.  In general the watercolors add depth to the clusters and also show what appears to be uneven ripening.  “The Blue grape” appears to exhibit “hen and chicken”.

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

“The smalle Reson grape | ripe September The 12”. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford [3]

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

“The Blue grape | Ripe September 27”. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford [4]

Three of the watercolors bear ripeness dates of September 10th through October 10th.  I wonder how these ripeness dates varied at the time given that England was particularly cold during this period.  For example, the Thames froze in 1608, 1621, and 1635. [7]  If you are curious to find out more about these watercolors then check out last year’s publication of  The Tradescants’ Orchard THE MYSTERY OF A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY PAINTED FRUIT BOOK.

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

“The Gret Reson Grape’ | [Caption partly trimmed away at the foot and rewritten by Ashmole at the top] | Ripe 10 Oct”. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford [5]

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

“The burtet Grape, wich wery scildum rip [ ]’ [cut away]”. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford [6]


[1] Parkinson, John. Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris. 1629. URL: http://archive.org/details/paradisiinsolepa00parkrich
[2] MS. Ashmole 1461. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. URL: http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/1500-1900/mss/ashmole/1461a.htm
[3] “The smalle Reson grape”. MS. Ashmole 1461. Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. URL: http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/s/p1026r
[4] “The Blue grape”. MS. Ashmole 1461. Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. URL: http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/s/60ca4d
[5] “The Gret Reson Grape”. MS. Ashmole 1461. Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. URL: http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/s/qoa0ny
[6] “The burtet Grape”. MS. Ashmole 1461. Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. URL: http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/s/8z4nae
[7] Lamb, H.H. Climate: Present, Past and Future, Volume 2. 2013. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=ra5FAAAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

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