Hans Simon Holtzbecker (d. 1671). THE MOLLER FLORILEGIUM.
[HAMBURG: C. 1665]
2 (376 x 245mm). Manuscript flower album containing an elaborately painted floral frontispiece incorporating the Moller arms, and 207 flower drawings, including tulips, daffodils and narcissi, crocuses, hyacinths and fritillaria. in watercolour and bodycolour. oc casionally with black chalk sketching visible underneath, on 88 vellum leaves, with paper interleaves. Contemporary German dark red morocco gilt, edges gilt and gauffered, remains of two claps with silver catches (scuffed).
A BOTANICAL ALBUM OF OUTSTANDING BEAUTY, THE MOLLER FLORILEGIUM IS A REDISCOVERED MASTERPIECE AND A SIGNIFICANT ADDITION TO THE NEWLY IDENTIFIED OEUVRE OF ONE OF THE FINEST GERMAN BOTANICAL ARTISTS OF THE 17TH CENTURY, HANS SIMON HOLTZBECKER.
See separate catalogue.
, painted on one (skin) side only. Paper interleaves watermarked with fleur-de-lis and pendant initials WR/W (similar to but not identical with those in Piccard from the Upper Rhein and Alsace, mainly 17th-century), often with countermark IHS, or fleur-de-lis with pendant G, 9 blank vellum leaves, one each bound after the frontispiece and sections of crocuses, stars of Bethlehem, and amaryllis, 3 after the tulips, and 2 at the end of the volume; at beginning and end are bound 3 and 14 paper leaves, respectively. A few later pencilled identifications on paper leaves, tulips faintly numbered in pencil at base of stem. (Leaf 36 of hyacinths slightly damaged, very slight paint flecking from 10 leaves, almost exclusively affecting foliage.) Contemporary German dark red morocco, double gilt fillet around sides, small cinquefoil at corners, spine with 6 raised bands tooled with gilt fillets, gilt edges gauffered at edges, remains of two leather clasps with silver catches on front cover (scuffed).
A BOTANICAL ALBUM OF OUTSTANDING BEAUTY, THE MOLLER FLORILEGIUM IS A REDISCOVERED MASTERPIECE AND A SIGNIFICANT ADDITION TO THE NEWLY IDENTIFIED OEUVRE OF ONE OF THE FINEST GERMAN BOTANICAL ARTISTS OF THE 17TH CENTURY, HANS SIMON HOLTZBECKER. It was created for Barthold Moller (1605-1667), a prominent mayor of Hamburg, and its quality of painting, its choice selection of flowers, its rich vellum leaves, and its contemporary binding of red morocco all attest to the high status of its patron and to the remarkable skill of its artist. That such sumptuous treatment has been lavished on the creation of the album reflects the 17th-century conception of the flower as an object of infinite beauty and fascination.
Presumed lost until its recent rediscovery, the Moller Florilegium may now be recognised as the work of Holtzbecker, a noted botanical artist of Hamburg. Although he enjoyed a great reputation during his lifetime, when his work was commissioned by the wealthy and the noble, Holtzbecker has gone unrecognised in the intervening centuries. This gross oversight is due to the rarity of his work -- he executed approximately 3000 flower paintings, but they are contained in only 4 works (in 11 volumes) --, but even more to the unfortunate misattribution of his masterpieces. Thus his slightly later compatriot, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), herself a great botanical artist, has until recently been credited with almost all of Holtzbecker's known work.
While the attribution to Merian is patently false, the two artists share nationality, subject matter, and some stylistic treatment. Merian, step-daughter of the still-life painter Jacob Marrel,was one of the foremost German botanical artists of her day (she was just younger than Holtzbecker), known in particular for the published editions of her work, Blumenbuch, Raupenbuch and her magnum opus, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensis. Her celebrity has contributed to numerous false attributions, some meant to deceive, and others resulting from want of rigorous study, as in the case of Holtzbecker. Examples of the work of Nicolas Robert and Barbara Regina Dietzsch have also been attributed to Merian. (See S. Segal, 'Maria Sibylla Merian as a Flower Painter', Maria Sibylla Merian, catalogue of an exhibition at Frankfurt, 1998, pp.68-87, and note 68 citing Holtzbecker's work.)
THE ARTIST: HANS SIMON HOLTZBECKER
Little is known of Holtzbecker's life. He was a Hamburg artist resident in the parish of St. Petri, and he almost certainly died in 1671 when, on 21 March a death knell was sounded for the husband of Mettie Holtzbecker (H. de Cuveland, Der Gottorfer Codex, p.5). While Holtzbecker's reputation did survive him, at some point it became divorced from the albums themselves, so that even into the 20th century Holtzbecker was credited in biographical dictionaries with the Gottorf and Moller florilegia, and yet the Gottorf albums were considered to be the work of Merian (the Moller albums had been lost from sight and only more recently has that work also been attributed to Merian).
The earliest notice of Holtzbecker appeared six years after his death, when he was included in Rudolf Capell's Nummophylacium Luederianum antiquum & recentius (1678). Capell credits Holtzbecker with creating elegant and beautifully coloured paintings on vellum of fruits, flowers, trees and plants; he cites specifically five volumes painted for Moller, a rare work of many years which was not inexpensive ('rarum opus aliquot annorum & non vulgaris pretii'). In the next century this biographical notice was expanded by Johann Moller to include the four-volume florilegium painted for the Dukes of Gottorf, and again in 1854 it appeared, virtually unchanged but translated from Latin into German, in Hamburgisches Knstlerlexikon: 'ein Hamburger Maler, welcher im siebzehnten Jahrhundert mit ungemeinem Fleiss und lebhaften Farben Blumen, Frchte und Pflanzen abbildete. Von seinen Arbeiten befanden sich vier Bnde in der Bibliothek des Herzogs von Gottorp und fnf auf Pergament im Besitz des Hamburger Brgermeisters Barthold Moller' ('a Hamburg painter, who depicted flowers, fruit and plants with uncommon industry and natural colours in the 17th century. Of his work, four volumes were in the library of the Dukes of Gottorf and five volumes on parchment were in the possession of the Hamburg mayor Barthold Moller'). In 1924 Thieme-Becker was even able to add that Holtzbecker's work was documented in the Gottorf archives. And yet, in spite of this reliable documentation, the Gottorf albums came to be attributed to Merian. The source of this misattribution appears to be Carl Friedrich von Rumohr, who seems to have applied an inscription in an album from Schloss Rosenborg to the Gottorf albums by mistake. This mistake was repeated and continued (and bore on the Moller Florilegium when it re-emerged in the middle of the 20th century) so that, with his greatest work thus no longer recognised as his own and the Moller Florilegium not known to have survived, Holtzbecker came into the 20th century almost unknown to art history. It is only due to the recent extensive research by Dr. Helga de Cuveland (Der Gottorfer Codex, 1989) that the albums have been proven conclusively to be the work of Holtzbecker.
Holtzbecker is now recognised as the artist of four florilegia: the Gottorf Codex, painted in the 1650s for Friedrich III, duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf; a florilegium very possibly created for Friedrich's wife, Duchess Maria Elisabeth; the Anckelmann florilegium, signed by Holtzbecker and dated 1660, painted for the Anckelmann family of Hamburg; and the Moller Florilegium. Interestingly, Holtzbecker appears to have painted almost exclusively on vellum, the most luxurious and expensive material, again indicating the high status of his patrons.
THE PATRON: BARTHOLD MOLLER
The Moller Florilegium was painted by Holtzbecker about 1665 for Barthold Moller. The Moller family was a leading family of Hamburg, among whom were counted businessmen, diplomats, and city councillors; Barthold Moller embodied its power and influence in the 17th century. Born in 1605, Barthold studied jurisprudence and mathematics at Leiden and Basel, and travelled widely in Europe -- through Germany, to France, the Netherlands and England -- before returning to Hamburg in 1629. The next year, at the age of 24, he was appointed secretary to the Hamburg Senate. Thereafter he enjoyed a wide variety of prestigious roles. His diplomatic missions took him to the king of Denmark and the archdukes of Cologne and Mainz, as well as further afield to The Hague and London. His civic positions included Lord of the Admiralty and mayor of Hamburg. He was one of the longest-serving mayors of Hamburg, entering office in 1643/44 and retaining it for 37 years until his death. In 1646 Moller sat on the commission to build the church of St. Michaelis, which has been a landmark of the city ever since. A coin struck to commemorate the founding of the St. Michaelis-Kirche carried a portrait of Moller on its obverse. Barthold married Elisabeth, daughter of Albert von Eitzen, also a mayor of Hamburg, in 1630. The couple had no children, but adopted the orphaned son of his brother-in-law, J.C. Meurer; the young man predeceased Barthold by a few months and so the family line was continued through Barthold's brothers, Johann (d.1672) and Vincent (1615-68). At Barthold's death in 1667 his residence in the Johannisstrasse passed to his male relations. (See U.P. Moller, Die hamburgische Familie Moller, Hamburg: 1856.)
The Moller Florilegium is a fitting attribute for a man of Moller's standing. No records of his garden survive, yet it is known that Hamburg's leading citizens maintained pleasure gardens on the outskirts of the city. If one may extrapolate from Holtzbecker's documented work for the Dukes of Gottorf, the Moller Florilegium may be seen as the pictorial representation of the Moller gardens, which, based on the number and variety of flowers depicted, were clearly extensive. The fine quality of the execution of the paintings also reflects Moller's high status.
As Capell reported in 1678, the Moller Florilegium originally comprised five volumes. The present album and one other, now in Oak Spring Garden Library, the collection of Rachel Lambert Mellon at Upperville, Virginia, are the only ones known to survive. The two albums are identically bound in red morocco and each has an elaborately painted floral frontispiece incorporating the Moller arms. Otherwise identical, the frontispieces are composed only of flowers which are depicted in the specific album (with one exception). This rather touching artistic conceit appears to have been characteristic of Holtzbecker, as his other florilegia contain floral frontispieces which also only incorporate flowers depicted in the album itself.
The present album contains only bulbous plants, the majority of which are spring flowers: snowdrops, crocuses, fritillaria, hyacinth, tulips, daffodils, narcissi, amaryllis. The number of cultivars, particularly tulips and double daffodils, indicates a serious interest in flower cultivation on behalf of its owner. Moller was also up-to-date on flower species recently introduced to Europe. While most of the flowers in the album are European, the Polianthes tuberosa (fo. 39) was introduced to Europe from Mexico only in the 1620s; the Amaryllis belladonna (fo. 93) was also a comparatively recent introduction from South Africa. Also, several of the flowers depicted are no longer in cultivation, for example, most of the double daffodils and some of the cultivated tulips, including the celebrated, Semper Augustus, for which thousands of florins were paid at the height of tulipomania just a few decades earlier.
The Mellon volume contains a floral frontispiece followed by flower paintings on 90 vellum leaves, depicting primarily wildflowers or herbs, such as saxifrage, lupin, geranium, delphinium, chrysanthemum, scabiosa and capsicum. The volume was described by L. Tongiori Tomasi in An Oak Spring Garden Flora (1997), no. 81, adopting a previous attribution to Merian.
The Moller Florilegium appears to be ordered by type of flower. The present album contains only bulbous plants but not all bulbous plants; lilies, irises, etc. were presumably contained in one of the now lost volumes. It is likely that the present album is the first of the Moller Florilegium. Bulbous plants were frequently given pride of place in florilegia, reflecting their cherished status among contemporary garden connoisseurs. Precedent is also found in Holtzbecker's other albums, where he placed bulbous plants first.
The terminus ante quem for the Moller Florilegium is Moller's death in 1667; Holtzbecker himself died in 1671. Holtzbecker is documented as occupied with work for the Gottorf family from 1649 to 1659, and in 1660 he produced the small Anckelmann florilegium. It is unlikely that Holtzbecker created the Moller florilegium before 1649, since the album is a work of experience, skill and maturity, and Holtzbecker would have still been a young man in the 1640s (his first son was born in 1651). We know from Capell that the Moller Florilegium was a work of many years' duration, and so it is most likely that Holtzbecker took up the work for Moller from 1660, having completed both the Gottorf and the Anckelmann florilegia. A date of 'circa 1665' allows for the several years' work required to create the 1000 fine paintings contained in the Moller Florilegium.
Moller may have engaged Holtzbecker on the basis of his work for the Gottorf family. The Moller and Gottorf families were involved in extensive transactions concerning a Hamburg residence in the 1660s and Dr. de Cuveland has suggested that Holtzbecker himself may have resided at the Hamburg property of either the Moller or Gottorf families (Der Gottorfer Codex, pp.7-9).
THE CONTEMPORARY GARDENS OF GERMANY
At the end of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), which had sent established gardens into decay and proposed gardens into stagnation, Germany experienced a resurgence in the creation of princely pleasure gardens. Even before the final battles were fought, Johann, Duke of Nassau-Saarbrcken, had begun to establish an extensive garden at Idstein. For this grand undertaking he secured the services of J. Furttenbach the younger, the foremost garden architect of the time, and in 1647 for the sum of 50 guilders he engaged the artist Johann Valentin Hofmann to paint the most celebrated flowers in the garden. He later also engaged the artist J. Walther the elder, who travelled repeatedly to Idstein in order to draw the flowers from nature. The results of his work were two volumes of 200 leaves of flower paintings. The albums were so cherished by the Duke that in his will he stipulated that they were never to be removed from the castle (cf. Nissen BBI pp.76-77).
The greatest garden in northern Germany in the middle of the 17th century was undoubtedly that of the Duke of Gottorf in Schleswig-Holstein. The court of Duke Friedrich III (1616-1659) was a centre of art and culture, and the gardens were transformed under the direction of his gardener, Johan Clodius. His 'new garden' included an orangery, the first of its kind in Germany, an aviary to house birds brought back from the Duke's foreign travels, and a conservatory for growing exotic plants (D. Hennebo and A. Hoffmann, Der architektonishe Garten: Renaissance und Barock, vol. II, 1965, reprint 1981, p.94).
At almost the same time as the Duke of Nassau engaged Walther to paint the flowers at Idstein, Friedrich III engaged Holtzbecker to paint a visual record of his illustrious gardens at Gottorf. The result is the Gottorf Codex, four grand volumes containing 1180 flower paintings on 363 vellum leaves. Holtzbecker's work for Friedrich III is documented in the surviving ducal archives, where he is recorded as having received 133 Reichtaler and 16 Schillings for finished work in 1650. Payments to Holtzbecker continue through the 1650s. From the archives it is clear that Holtzbecker drew from nature, working both at Gottorf and at Hamburg. Even in Hamburg the artist was able to draw from nature, since deliveries of botanist's boxes of flowers are recorded as having been sent from Gottorf to Holtzbecker. Friedrich III also provided vellum for Holtzbecker's use.
At Husum too, a favourite castle of Duchess Maria Elisabeth, wife of Friedrich III, pleasure gardens were maintained, and Holtzbecker is recorded as working there for the Duchess from 1655-58. The gardens at Husum were also practical, and its produce supplied not only the kitchen at Gottorf, but also that of the Danish king at Flensburg. Dr. de Cuveland has suggested that the smaller album from Gottorf may depict the garden at Husum (Der Gottorfer Codex, p.38) .
The garden as represented in the Moller Florilegium is impossible to judge accurately on the basis of the two surviving volumes alone but certain assumptions may be drawn. It must have been extensive, with the complete Florilegium containing approximately 1000 drawings on 480 leaves. In its variety of flower, as noted above, it was in keeping with Moller's status as a leading citizen of Hamburg. THE MOLLER FLORILEGIUM IS ONE OF THE RARE RECORDS -- EVEN IF ONLY PARTIAL -- OF A GARDEN OF A PRIVATE CITIZEN OF THE 17TH CENTURY.