Folio. (20 4/8 x 13 inches). Bound without title-page or text, as issued. 160 fine engraved plates, including 6 before letters, by Nicolas Robert, Abraham Bosse and Louis de Chatillon after Nicolas Robert and de Chatillon, with occasional engraved additions and alterations by Jean Marchant, all with early numbering in ink: 1-13, 15-159, and two bis. plates, most with Linnaean bi-nomials added in ink or pencil. Contemporary mottled calf, elegantly rebacked to style in seven compartments, with 6 raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in one, the others decorated with small gilt tools (corners and edges expertly repaired, endpapers renewed).
Provenance: with 18th-century annotations neatly supplying the Linnaean bi-nomials to many of the plates, in pen and ink, or in pencil.
A RARE ALBUM OF ROBERT'S MAGNIFICENT BOTANICAL PLATES, PROBABLY BOUND FOR PRESENTATION, not formally published or offered for sale. The original intention was to publish a complete history of plants, including chemical, medical and botanical analyses of all the species. Very rarely offered for sale, and only appears in the collections of major institutions.
A full suite consists of 319 engraved plates, and this album of 160 plates includes, in addition to plants from Africa and the East Indies, a large selection of plants native to the Americas, or thought to have been at the time:
Hieracium caeruleum Americanum - American blue hawkweed
Herba mimosa frutescens - Mimosa punctata L. - found in Texas, Central and Southern America
Herba mimosa altera - Mimosa pernambucana L.- found in the West Indies
Heliotropicum Americanum - Heliotropicum indicum L.- found throughout Asia
Helenium Canadense, Vosacan dictum - Jerusalem artichoke
Hellebornie Canadensis, sive Calceolus - Cypripedium album L. - Lady's slipper orchid - North America
Muscus marinus americanus reticulatus - a type of sponge
Melon vulgaris - Cacumus Melo L. - muskmelon, or cantaloupe melon
Palmae nux Indicae cocciferae angulosa - Cocos nucifera L. - coconut
Papauer spinosum, Mexicanum - Argemone mexicana L. - Mexican poppy
Lilium sive Martagon Canadense ,... - Lilium superbum L. - Turkscap lily
Melocactus Americanus echinatus - Cactus melocactus L. - southern United States, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean
Lactuca Canadensis, altissima - Lactuca canadensis L. -Canada lettuce - 3 varieties illustrated
Aloe Americana - Algarve americana L. - American aloe - 3 varieties illustrated, including Aloe vera
Aster virgineaus augustifolius - New York aster
Ananas Acostae Lugd. - Pineapple - South America
Aster Canadensis - horse weed, or mare's tail - 2 varieties illustrated
Apios americana - potato bean
Aquitegita pumita praecox Canadensis - Aquilegia canadensis L. - Columbine
Angelica trifolia, Canadensis - Angelica lucida canadensis L. - Sea angelica
Apocynum American - Apocynum androsaemifolium L. - Spreading dogbane
Astragalus Canadensis - Canadian milkvetch
"The original idea for this encyclopaedic undertaking was conceived by Perrault and the proposal was enthusiastically received by Colbert, minister to Louis XIV, although it appears to have actually begun to take shape only when the botanist Denis Dodart (1634-1707) joined the Academie in 1673. His work, Memoires pour servir a l'Histore des Plantes, which was intended to form the introductory volume to this series, appeared in 1675 and contained thirty-nine plates by Robert. In it Dodart lamented the fact that none of the engravings could be in colour, but at least, he assured the reader, all the illustrations in the new series would be drawn directly from life, the artist making every effort to present the plants in their actual dimensions" (Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi An Oak Spring Flora p 168).
"Putting to one side his regular activity of flower painting on vellum in order to concentrate on this project, Robert managed to produce an enormous number of engravings [but at the time of his death the work was incomplete] ... The Recueil des plantes was judged by the master flower painter Gerard van Spaendonck to be the most beautiful botanical work ever published. Most of the engravings show the plants in flower, complete with their roots, and many are accompanied by enlarged drawings of certain details. This work was clearly the result of a close collaboration between the scientist and artist, both seeking to portray the plant as accurately as possible. The plates engraved by Robert are instantly distinguishable by the lightness of his touch and by the sensitive modulation of the various tones of grey and black in the leaves and flowers" (Tomasi pp 168-170).
The other artists responsible for some of the truly beautiful engravings in this album are Abraham Bosse (1602-1676), whose wide experience of engraving would have been invaluable to Robert, and Louis de Chatillon (1639-1734), who continued the work after Robert's death in 1684. BM (NH) IV, p 1515; Brunet IV.1325; Bultingaire Les Velins du Museum d'Histore Naturelle de Paris [n.d.]; Great Flower Books (1990) p 91; Hunt, "Flora Portrayed" (1985) p 21; Hunt, "Printmaking in the Service of Botany" (1986) 16; Laissus & Monseigny, "Les Plantes du Roi" in Revue d'histore des sciences, XXII, fasc. 3, pp 193-236; Nissen BBI 533 & 504; Rix The Art of the Plant World p 61. For inquiries please contact Greg McMurray, MLS, Director, Rare Books.