Johann Wilhelm Weinmann, pharmacist and botanist, was born on March 13,
1683 at Gardelegen, Germany, the son of a barber, Matthias Christian Weinmann.
Little is known about his early life, but he settled in Regensburg in 1710 as
a pharmacist’s assistant in a local apothecary shop. He later made the claim
that he had worked with physicians and apothecaries in many German towns and
that all of them would give favorable testimonials in his behalf. What is
certain is that Weinmann’s fortunes developed rapidly in Regensburg. In 1712,
he was able, with his fiancée, to purchase a house and apothecary shop;
his bride, Isabella Catharina Fürst, was the daughter of a well-to-do
wine merchant. In 1732, two years after the death of his first wife, Weinmann
married Christine Catharina Pfaffenreuther, the daughter of a town official,
and was able to purchase a bankrupt pharmacy business which he soon built up
into a thriving concern.
Shortly after his first marriage, Weinmann became involved in a series of
disputes with other pharmacists and some of the town physicians; these arose
out of his official position as Hospital Apothecary to which he had been
appointed in 1713. The quarrels among the various parties eventually became
so disruptive that, in 1715, the Town Council was forced to intervene and
Weinmann was officially censured for his actions. At the same time, the
physicians involved were ordered not to interfere with him in his professional
This affair had no long lasting effect on Weinmann’s career. In 1722, he
became a member of one of the town’s councils, from 1725 to 1733, he was a
commercial assessor, and from 1733 to 1740, he held the post of city assessor.
At the same time, his business enterprises were flourishing, he had become a
wealthy man, and these favorable circumstances permitted him to indulge in
his much desired avocation-botany. He established a small botanical garden in
Regensburg and, in 1723, published a brief work entitled Catalogus
Alphabetico ordine exhibens Pharmaca .... He also contributed botanical
notes as "Observationes und Anmerkungen" in the "Breslauer
Weinmann’s major creation was Phytanthoza iconographia (1737-1745),
a great project which comprised eight folio volumes with over a thousand
hand-colored engravings of several thousand plants. The first artist employed
by Weinmann was none other than Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) who would
become one of the foremost floral illustrators of the eighteenth century. When
he was introduced to Weinmann in 1728, he had no employment and was so poor
that he had not been able to pay his river passage from Ulm to Regensburg, but
had worked it off by taking turns at the oars. When Weinmann saw examples of
Ehret’s work, he hired him to draw a thousand illustrations in a year’s time
for which he would be paid fifty thaler. He was also given room and board and
lived in the Weinmann house with the apothecary apprentices. At the end of a
year, the artist had completed half of the assignment, and Weinmann, claiming
that the contract was unfulfilled, gave him twenty thaler and sent him on his
way. Several years later, Ehret brought a suit against his former employer in
order to obtain compensation, but Weinmann claimed that Ehret had deserted him,
and the suit failed. In spite of these early difficulties, the latter’s career
was filled with success stories on the Continent and in England where he had
many wealthy patrons.
After Ehret’s departure, Weinmann hired other illustrators and engravers, and
the text was the work of the Regensburg physician, Dr. Johann Georg Nicolaus
Dieterichs. Phytanthoza iconographia was published in both Latin and
German editions, and a Dutch edition appeared in four volumes in 1736-1748.
This edition was brought to Japan in the early nineteenth century, and some of
the Weinmann illustrations were the source for those in Honzô zufu,
the monumental Japanese botanical work by Iwasaki Tsunemasa (1786-1842). This
book, which describes and illustrates 2000 plants, is said to be one of the two
most important treatises on systematic botany in the Tokugawa period (1603-1867).
Weinmann’s great work has been described in various ways, not all of them
complimentary. It is acknowledged that Phytanthoza was impressive for
its size and scope, but criticisms were made concerning some of the plant
specimens displayed. The German botanist, Christoph Jakob Trew (1695-1769), who
was a friend and collaborator with Georg Ehret for thirty-six years, wrote to
a friend in 1742-"... it is really regrettable that the late Weinmann’s
precious work had so many untrue, even faked images which gave it a bad name
with those who are knowledgeable...." It is also unfortunate that Weinmann
employed a number of illustrators who, unlike Ehret, had little or no knowledge
of botany. Wilfrid Blunt, in The Art of Botanical Illustration, described
the volumes more impressive in size than in quality, but "certainly a
- Wilfrid Blunt and William T. Stearn, The Art of Botanical Illustration.
- Gerta Calmann, Ehret: Flower Painter Extraordinary. 1977.
- Ludwig Pongratz, "Naturforscher im Regensburger und ostbayerischen
Raum". Acta Albertina Ratisbonensia. v. 25:33-34. 1963.
- Richard C. Rudolph, "Illustrations from Weinmann’s ‘Phytanthoza
iconographia’ in Iwasaki’s ‘Honzô zufu’". Huntia. v. 2:1-28.
Robert F. Erickson