Basilius Besler (1561-1629).
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Basilius Besler (1561-1629).

Basilius Besler (1561-1629).

Hortus Eystettensis. [Nuremberg]: 1613. 2 volumes, royal broadsheet (555 x 423mm). Letterpress: dedication to Johann Christoph, Prince Bishop of Eichstätt, 2 leaves of privileges for France, Belgium and the Netherlands in roman, italic, or gothic type, 'Ordo' titles printed on plate versos; without descriptive text as issued. Engraved title by Wolfgang Kilian, 3 engraved season titles (spring, summer, autumn) by J. Leypold, and 367 engraved plates by Wolfgang Kilian, Dominicus Custos, Raphael Custos, Georg Gärtner, Johannes Leypold, Levin van Hulsen, Friedrick van Hulsen, Peter Isselburg, Servatius Raeven, Heinrich Ulrich and possibly others, after Daniel Herzog, Georg Gärtner and others, ALL RICHLY COLOURED BY A CONTEMPORARY HAND, the general title and spring season title with black painted border. German common names added to all plants in pencil in a contemporary hand; Linnean names added to many plants in a late 18th-19th-century hand in pencil. (Lower and fore-edge margins of title and letterpress leaves restored, slight surface wear to colouring on title, slight fraying and tears into image expertly repaired in title, Spring title mounted, small holes at corner of autumn title and following 2 plates repaired, some small marginal tears and slight fraying, minor repaired tears touching image in about 40 plates, German caption washed from 2 plates, neat tear in one plate, small marginal section of 3 plates restored.) AN ORIGINAL DRAWING IN WATERCOLOUR OF AN ALOE AMERICANA, whose flowering at Ansbach it commemorates with an inscription dated 1626, is mounted on a new guard at the end, having been lifted from the pastedown. An additional engraving on two sheets of the same Aloe Americana by Wolfgang Kilian and dated 1628 is mounted on two blank leaves, also at the end of volume I.

FOLIATION: There are two series of early foliation:
1) at lower right corner, often trimmed, in several sequences: vol. I: [3-6] 7-100; a-z; aa-qq; vol. II: 1-101; 1-84; a-z; aa-tt; 2-8
2) at upper right corner, vol. I: preliminary leaves and season title unnumbered, 1-135 (including the first of the blank leaves at end), vol. II: 1-247 (including season titles, blank interim leaves and the first of the blank leaves at end).

The lower sequence, presumably the earlier of the two and certainly written before the book was bound, suggests that two further leaves of preliminaries (presumably the portrait of Besler and address to the reader) and the winter season title may have been present when the sheets were first assembled. However they were almost certainly omitted before the volume was bound, as they are not missed by the second, also early, sequence of foliation. Marginal repair shows also that the title was originally bound at the beginning of the Spring section (as usual); it is now bound at the beginning of the volume containing winter flowers.

PAPER: watermarked with one of at least three versions of pine-cone on a cup within armorial shield (very similar to Briquet 2122), paper of varying thickness, one sheet without watermark; blank leaves bound in watermarked with crown with initials HS, very similar to Piccard Kronen XIV, 33, located to Augsburg and vicinity, 1618-1632. The original drawing of the Aloe Americana is on paper marked with the arms of Kaufbeuren, Swabia.

BINDING: contemporary German blindtooled pigskin over thick pasteboard, sides with concentric rolls of palmettes, heads-in-medallion, flowers, and arabesques, an arabesque medallion deeply sunk at centre, spine undecorated, green edges (rebacked preserving original backstrip, corners repaired, evidence of two cloth fore-edge ties, slightly rubbed and very slightly soiled). Blank leaves are bound in at the end of each season and at the end of volume I, with the instruction for their insertion written in a contemporary hand on the verso of the preceding plate. Eight additional leaves are called for at the end of summer (all are present), 3 at the end of autumn (2 are present), 4 at the end of winter (2 are present), and 8 at the end of the first volume (5 are present).


JOACHIM ERNST, MARKGRAF OF BRANDENBURG-ANSBACH (1583-1625). Nicolas Barker convincingly argues for identifying the present copy with that known to have been owned by the Markgraf, a close friend of the Prince Bishop, Johann Conrad von Gemmingen. A copy of the Hortus Eystettensis bound in two volumes is recorded in the post-mortem inventory of the Markgraf's library. In 1805 the Ansbach library came to the University of Erlangen, and three copies of the work are recorded: one copy of the 1713-50 edition remains at Erlangen and two other copies were given away in 1839 (cf. Wickert, in Hortus Eystettensis, pp.121 and 138-9, and Barker p.40.) The insertion of an original drawing and the engraving by Kilian of the Aloe Americana, whose flowering at Ansbach in 1627 they commemorate, supports such an identification.

Joseph Baer & Co., bookseller at Frankfurt, with his label. Sold to:

Maria Theresa Earle (1836-1925), gardener and author. She describes her acquisition of this copy in her More Pot-pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1889.

Robert de Belder, sale Sotheby's, 27 April 1987, lot 23 to Quaritch.


The Hortus Eystettensis is a pictorial record of the flowers grown in the greatest German garden of its time, that of the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt, Johann Conrad von Gemmingen. On his accession to the bishophric in 1595, Johann Conrad instigated a vast building programme at his seat, the Willibaldsburg castle overlooking the river Altmühl, which involved radically altering the orientation of the castle. Integral to his building programme was the construction of pleasure gardens. By 1611 there were eight separate gardens surrounding the castle, each staffed with its own gardeners and each filled with flowers from a different country, imported through the international centres of Amsterdam, Antwerp and Brussels. Painted halls and pleasure rooms further adorned the gardens. The Prince Bishop's boast of having tulips in 500 colours attests to the rich display. The great German botanist, Joachim Camerarius the Younger, advised the Prince Bishop on the garden's early design, and it may have been Camerarius's own manuscript florilegium (sold Christie's, 20 May 1992, lot 151) which first suggested the creation of a pictorial record of the Eichstätt gardens to the Prince Bishop. After Camerarius's death in 1598 a Nuremberg apothecary, Basilius Besler, advised the Prince Bishop on the gardens, and it was he who undertook immortalising the garden in detailed and delicate engravings for the year-round enjoyment of his patron and for posterity in the Hortus Eystettensis.

The project excited keen interest among Johann Conrad's contemporaries even before its publication, and in 1611 Wilhelm V dispatched Philipp Hainhofer on an embassy to Eichstätt with the hope of obtaining copies of drawings of plants, herbs, and animals, among other works of art. Hainhofer was graciously welcomed and lavishly entertained, but he was not successful in his object since, as the Prince Bishop apologised, the drawings were not then in his possession, but in Nuremberg, where they were being engraved for publication. As Johann Conrad explained the project to his visitor, Besler 'wishes to have them engraved in copper, printed, dedicated to me and to seek his fame and profit with the book'. Johann Conrad died in 1612 before the book's publication, but his successor, Johann Christoph von Westerstetten, continued to support the project and the work was published in 1613. A dedication to each bishop was printed. Copies of the 'common' issue with text printed on the verso invariably contain the dedication to Johann Conrad, while copies of the de luxe issue contain either one or the other.

The Hortus Eystettensis was conceived on a grand scale. Flowers were drawn from life with flower boxes sent to Nuremberg so that artists there could work from fresh specimens; copperplate engravings were made by prominent engravers such as Wolfgang Kilian; and the plates were printed on large-format, royal paper sheets. The first edition was limited to 300 copies, the cost of which far exceeded the 3000 Gulden initially anticipated by Johann Christoph. By the time he died he had spent over 7500 Gulden and only half the plates were finished.

The first edition was published in two issues: one with descriptive text printed on the verso of each plate and one without the text; in a few copies of the latter issue the text was printed on separate sheets and interleaved with the plates. As Barker observes, the issue without text backing the plates was undoubtedly intended to be coloured by hand. The versos were left blank, not, as has been suggested, in case the colour permeated the paper and affected the text, but, on the contrary, to ensure that no shadow of the printed text could detract from the botanical image. It is significant that many of the de luxe copies have no descriptive text at all. They are therefore true florilegia, celebrating the sheer beauty of each individual flower. Just as Johann Conrad was among the earliest in Germany to construct gardens for pleasure, as opposed to utility, so too did he provide a pictorial record of his flowers for pure pleasure. Without the ink and impression of text showing through, these de luxe copies reproduce as closely as possible the Prince Bishop's cherished original drawings. Here then are the copies of the drawings requested by Wilhelm V in 1611, copied not by hand, as Wilhelm had envisioned, but by the mechanical process of engraving.

These de-luxe copies carried a premium price. While uncoloured copies were available for 48 florins (35 for unbound copies), coloured copies cost 500 florins. Herzog August of Braunschweig exclaimed in disbelief over the price of a coloured copy, but acquired one nonetheless, once he was assured that he had indeed understood the price correctly.

Despite numerous contemporary records pertaining to the Eichstätt gardens and the production of the Hortus Eystettensis, intense interest in the work in the 18th century, and the researches of several modern scholars, much mystery still surrounds its publication. Neither the printer of the engraved plates nor of the letterpress text has been identified. Barker has tentatively suggested Paul Kauffmann as the printer of the text, with material acquired at Frankfurt through the offices of the printseller and publisher Balthasar Caimox expressly for printing the Hortus Eystettensis ("Who printed the text of the 'Hortus Eystettensis'?, The German Book, Studies presented to David L. Paisey, ed. J.L. Flood and W.A. Kelly, London: 1995, pp185-192). David Paisey has observed that if the watermark is read (as Briquet did) as a pine-cone within an armorial shield, then it may be the arms of Augsburg, which further points to Wolfgang Kilian's shop at Augsburg as responsible for the engravings (cf. Paisey's review of Barker's Hortus Eystettensis, in The Library, 6th series, vol. 17, pp.365-8).

The original drawings used in preparing the plates for publication survive at the University of Erlangen, and 328 of the copperplates, long thought to have been melted at the Munich mint c.1820, were rediscovered in the Albertina Graphische Sammlung at Vienna in 1998.


Nicolas Barker, Hortus Eystettensis, the Bishop's Garden and Besler's Magnificent Book, second edition. London: 1995.
Hortus Eystettensis: zur Gechichte eines Gartens und einer Buches (Schriften der Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg 20), Munich: 1989.
The Garden at Eichstätt, The Book of Plants by Basilius Besler. Intro. by Klaus Walter Littger. Cologne, London, etc: [1999].

Hunt 430 (1713 edition); Nissen BBI 158; Pritzel 745; Stafleu & Cowan 497; L. Tongiorgi Tomasi Oak Spring Flora 11. (2)
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