BESLER, Basilius (1561-1629). Hortus Eystettensis. [Nuremberg]: 1613.
BESLER, Basilius (1561-1629). Hortus Eystettensis. [Nuremberg]: 1613.
BESLER, Basilius (1561-1629). Hortus Eystettensis. [Nuremberg]: 1613.
28 More
BESLER, Basilius (1561-1629). Hortus Eystettensis. [Nuremberg]: 1613.
31 More
No VAT on hammer price or buyer's premium. From a Private European Library
BESLER, Basilius (1561-1629). Hortus Eystettensis. [Nuremberg]: 1613.

BESLER, Basilius (1561-1629). Hortus Eystettensis. [Nuremberg]: 1613.

Royal broadsheet (540 x 415mm). 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, index leaves for each season (spring A-D, AA-CC; summer Aa-Hh; autumn aa-cc; winter A); without descriptive text as issued. Engraved title by Wolfgang Kilian, 366 engraved plates (on 367 sheets with the two plates of Lilium Martagon attached at an early date) 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, engraved portraits and arms of Besler and Sebastian Schedel, ALL RICHLY COLOURED BY A CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN HAND.

COLOURING AND EXTRA-ILLUSTRATIONS: Contemporary Italian colouring of c. 1618-20. Nicolas Barker characterises the colouring in the present copy as consonant with others coloured before about 1650, such as the Bibliothèque national de France (1648), Museum d’Histoire Naturelle (after 1640) and Vendramin (c.1615-1648) copies, possibly based on a coloured exemplar, supplemented by written instructions. The present copy is the only one known to have been coloured south of the Alps and the only one extra-illustrated.

The copy contains 15 additional 17th-century original drawings in water- and body-colour and a hand-coloured engraving of a passion flower, giant granadilla. The majority of drawings are directly on the plate and are very fine, possibly by the artist who coloured the work. Five drawings are on separate sheets bound in, one on prepared blue paper with an inscription in Italian on the verso, and one of the giant granadilla, representing the specimen grown by Cardinal Farnese. Some of the drawings appear to be by another artist. The print is titled ‘Vera Effigie delle Grandiglia detta Fior della Passione’. It is dedicated to Giovanni Faber (see below) and has a short description by the noted botanist and apothecary, Donato d’Eremita, of the flower’s introduction into Italy and appearance in the garden of Cardinal Farnese. D’Eremita had served at the Medici court at Florence before returning to Naples in 1611 as pharmacist at the Dominican convent of Santa Caterina a Formiella, from where this print is signed and dated 20 December 1619.

BINDING: Italian, probably Milanese, mid-17th-century russet calf over pasteboard, border of gilt and blind fillets, large central lozenge of floral tools and small stars, larger tool repeated at corners and, with pomegranate tool, in spine compartments, title lettered along spine, 4 clasps, sprinkled edges, later slipcase (new endpapers, a little worming, wear at spine with loss at head, lower spine compartment renewed, some rubbing, discreet repairs at extremities, clasp-leather renewed). The large floral tool appears to be identical to one used by Pietro Martire Locarno at Milan; after his death in 1609 the business was continued by his widow in partnership with the bookseller G.B. Bidelli (cf. Kevin Stevens, ‘A Bookbinder in Early Seventeenth-Century Milan: the Shop of Pietro Martire Locarno’, The Library, 6th series, vol.18, December 1996, 306-327, fig. 1).

PROVENANCE: Very possibly Dr Giovanni Faber (Bamberg 1574-1629 Rome), professor of medicine, director of the papal botanical garden and member of the Accademia dei Lincei.


In a letter of 6 April 1617 to Duke August, Philipp Hainhofer noted that Dr [Ferdinando] Mattioli wished to acquire a copy of the Hortus Eystettensis for Dr Faber at Rome. Hainhofer had been instructed to acquire for Duke August an uncoloured copy in sheets, and in this letter he reports that the price of an uncoloured copy had risen to 48 florins; that he had managed to obtain for Duke August a copy otherwise destined for Faber; and that two other copies still remained for sale. While the letter firmly established that Mattioli had ordered an uncoloured copy in sheets for Faber, presumably filled by one of the two other available copies, the existence of Faber’s copy has never been known, and only now, with its emergence from a private library, is it able to be recognised.

The case for identifying the present copy as Faber’s is strong. It clearly was sent to Italy soon after publication unbound and uncoloured, as Mattioli’s order. There it was fully coloured by an Italian artist, bound for the first time – thereby retaining almost its full sheet size – and extra-illustrated with the addition of very fine original botanical drawings and an engraved print dated 1619. The print, itself a rarity, depicts a passion flower, the giant granadilla, which had been first introduced into Italy that year and had flowered in the garden of Cardinal Farnese. The print is dedicated to Giovanni Faber; and dated 20 December 1619. Interestingly, a similar print of the giant granadilla, but with caption by Tobia Aldini and dated Venice, 20 July 1620, is preserved in the copy of the Hortus Eystettensis, coloured in Germany, bound in Italy, and owned by the noted Venetian art patron, Andrea Vendramin (fl. 1615-1648).

Giovanni Faber, a German physician, came to Rome for scientific studies. He became assistant physician at the S. Spirito in Sassia hospital, lecturer on anatomy at the Sapienza in Rome, professor of medicine and pharmacology, and, at the death of Andrea Bacci, director of the papal botanical garden. He was elected member of the newly founded Accademia dei Lincei in 1611, and became its Chancellor and Secretary. Faber counted among his close friends the artists Rubens, Brill and Elsheimer, and scientists across Europe, including Christoph Clavius, Marcus Welser, Giovanni della Porta, and many others. Especially close were fellow Linceans Federico Cesi, Cassiano Dal Pozzo, and Galileo, whose Assayer Faber helped prepare.

Faber was at the nexus of scientific circles focused on the visual representation of natural history, as well as the study and cultivation of specimens in the papal gardens. Cesi, Faber and friends ‘had the objects of their own investigations drawn with unprecedented attention to detail and encouraged their correspondents to send them similar drawings (Freedberg, ‘Cassiano and the art of natural history,’ The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo, 1993, p.145). Among the scholarly manifestations of this impulse was the remarkable ‘paper museum’ started by Cesi and fully realised by Cassiano, a collection of over 7,000 drawings forming a visual encyclopaedia documenting the full extent of the natural world. Cassiano was secretary to Cardinal Francisco Barberini; Barberini also owned a copy of the Hortus Eystettensis (now at the Vatican). The Hortus Eystettensis was held up as a model for much of the work of the Linceans; Faber gifted a copy to Cesi for Christmas 1615 and Fugger (in conjunction with Mattioli?) is also recorded as giving a copy to Faber (Carteggio, no. 419, p.519, cited by Freedberg, Eye of the Linx, p.462; A.M. Capecci, L'accademia dei lincei e la cultura europea, p.97).

Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis fits perfectly with this ambition of the Linceans to observe, record and study, and its additional original drawings accord with Faber’s access to artists such as Rubens, Paul Brill (1554-1626) and Vincenzo Leonardi (fl. 1621-c.1646), as well as his own talents as an experienced natural history draughtsman. The additional drawings are by at least two artists. Few of Faber’s books are known today. At his death, Cesi bought 113 printed books from Faber’s library, Cassiano Dal Pozzo 154, and Gabriel Naude 12 (cf. Lost Books).

The Hortus Eystettensis is itself a ‘paper museum’, 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. As part of a radical building programme at his seat, the Willibaldsburg castle overlooking the river Altmühl, the Prince Bishop created an extensive pleasure garden comprising eight separate gardens, 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; the Prince Bishop boasted of having tulips in 500 colours. Painted halls and pleasure rooms further adorned the gardens. 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, a Nuremberg apothecary, Basilius Besler, advised 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. Flowers were drawn from life with flower boxes sent to Nuremberg so that artists there could work from fresh specimens, with the result that these plant portraits serve both as documentation and pleasure; here is a garden made perennial and evergreen.

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, to ensure that no shadow of the printed text could detract from the botanical image. It is significant that many of the deluxe copies have no descriptive text at all. The first edition was limited to 300 copies, each of which carried a premium price. While uncoloured copies were available for 35 florins (rising to 48), 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 much interest in the work and numerous documentary sources, 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.

CONDITION: Lacking season titles as often; a few small wormholes in title, preliminary leaves, first few and final 7 plates; single wormhole in blank area through plate 85; faint dampstaining in first approx. 50 leaves; several plates with minor marginal repairs; a few plates just shaved at fore-edge and with a few tiny holes just touching images; title with minor repairs at margins, reinforced at edges, remounted and a touch shorter; portraits with some light spotting, minor repair at fore-edge and plate edge just shaved; plate of Sambucus Arorosea with small marginal hole, plate of Aquilegia stellate with two tiny holes just touching engraving, folding plate of Lilium Martagon slightly rubbed, repair at fold and with two tears; Lilium Montanum with neat repaired tear in image; Tordilion Creticum repaired in margin; Tagetes Patula with repaired tear across lower part; Melocactus with small paper flaw in image.

Nicolas Barker, Hortus Eystettensis, the Bishop's Garden and Besler's Magnificent Book, second edition. London: 1995, p.66 for Hainhofer’s letter of 6 April 1617; 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. Christie's is grateful to Nicolas Barker for sharing his expertise on the edition and its colouring.
Special notice
No VAT on hammer price or buyer's premium.

More from Valuable Books and Manuscripts

View All
View All