German School
Iris Susiana [Mourning Iris]

PROVENANCE: Private collection, Germany.

Inscribed in pen and brown ink in a 17th century hand IRIS SUSIANA., watercolour and gum arabic, edges of plant incised with a stylus for transfer, watermark a trumpet

297 x 137 mm. (11 5/8 x 5 3/8 in.)


Iris Susiana is a member of the genus of Iris, and is commonly known as Mourning Iris. Iris are an incredibly diverse group of bulbs and rhizomes, encompassing over 200 species and numerous cultivars. They range widely in cultural requirements, some are drought tolerant, while others require a pond to flourish. Flower colour and size vary dramatically as well. Foliage is grass-like or sword-like, and flowers are complex, very showy. The three inner segments (known as standards) are petals, the outer ones (known as falls) are sepals. There are three main categories of irises: bearded, beardless and crested. Bearded iris are the most popular and well known, and come in virtually every colour. Iris Susiana is an Oncocyclus bearded variety that blooms in late spring. They bear only one flower 4 to 6 inches across in a gray with veins of deep purple, black patches and purple beards. The leaves of this species are slightly curved 4 to 6 inches long.

Another version of our watercolour is at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University1. This watercolour forms part of an album of 290 bound watercolors. Another album, with near-duplicate watercolors, is held by Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, and is attributed to Magdalena Funck (Heuchelin 1672-died after 1693) and is dated 1692 (the Hunt Institute’s copy is dated 1762). The Washington album was painted for the Nrnberg University of Altdorf near Erlangen, disbanded in 18092.

The present watercolour, dateable to circa 1700 from the watermark [see Figure 1], the paper and the technique, is connected to the work of Magdalena Funck, and the above mentioned albums. It is possible that the present watercolour is a skilled version of one of the sheets from the Washington album. Copies were often made of books, and many watercolours were later bound in a book and were manuscript catalogues of flowers for use by prospective clients, country estate owners who could decide what to buy from the watercolours, often the work of well-known artists.

1.Accession no. 0877.116, I would like to thank James White and Lugene Bruno for their assistance in cataloguing this drawing. This album is catalogued as late 18th century, Austria?, after Magdalena Rosina Funck.

2.Heidrun Ludwig, Nrnberger naturgeschichtliche Maler und Stecher des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Marburg an der Lahn, Basilisken-Presse, 1998, pp. 201, 330-1.