[ABRAHAM MUNTING (1626-1683)]
An album of plant drawings. Circa 1672-1696]. 2° (400 x 310mm). 176 mounted pen-and-ink and wash botanical drawings, most monochrome with occasional traces of underdrawing in red or black chalk, plant names in Latin and paper additions glued to lower edge, the final 16 coloured, one of these (number 167) signed with monogram 'HB' or IHB fec.'. Early-19th-century half sheep, spine in five compartments with raised bands, the bands delineated with gilt rules, the second compartment with red morocco lettering-piece with rule and roll-tool decoration surrounding titling 'Plantes Dessinées'. Provenance: Abraham Munting (1626-1683, manuscript titles to most drawings, probably inherited by his son:); Albert Munting (1660-1694); ?F.Halma and P. van der Aa (printers, pencilled notes on verso of some drawings and mounts); pencilled note in an unidentified hand (on front pastedown, noting an auction in 1821).
A FINE UNRECORDED COLLECTION OF DRAWINGS, ORIGINALLY COMMISSIONED OR COLLECTED BY MUNTING, WITH ALL BUT TWO USED TO ILLUSTRATE ONE OF MOST ALLURING OF 17TH-CENTURY BOTANICAL WORKS, Munting's posthumous publication Naauwkeurige Beschryving der Aardgewassen (Leiden & Utrecht: F.Halma & P.van der AA, 1696). Neither the copperplates nor Munting's manuscript are known to have survived. This corpus of drawings has only just been discovered; its very existence has been unknown to scholars of Munting's work.
These images, some of the finest botanical illustrations of their time, represent 'a radical departure from the iconography of then traditional florilegium... Each plate shows a different plant in flower, including many exotic species from America and other distant lands. The plant dominates the foreground, filling the entire page, often with a detail of the fruit or the flowers presented on a smaller scale. In some cases the plants are presented à trompe l'oeil, while in others they have been arranged in decorated urns. Sometimes gardening tools are depicted as well. The name of each plant appears written on an elegantly fluttering ribbon or cartouche, or on a crumbling marble plaque.
'The originality of the work lies, however, in the small landscapes that have been inserted into the background of the plates. Here the artist gave full rein to his imagination, delineating scenes that in reality bore little relation to the actual habitat of the plants. Pastorals with animals and figures alternate capriously with vistas of walled cities and landscapes containing classical statues and ruins' (Lucia Tongiorgi-Tomaso An Oak Spring Flora p.174).
Although Tongiorgi-Tomaso goes on to say 'it is not known who actually conceived this idea of combining botanical illustration with landscape scenes'. These drawings reveal exactly how and why these remarkable images were created. The detailed and careful drawings demonstrate that each image is the work of two artists, and allow the viewer to see clearly how a collection of normal scientific line drawings by various hands, a number not intended for publication, have been transformed into a cohesive and spectacularly artistic grouping incorporating shading, ribbons for captions and landscape backgrounds, ready for use as models for the engraver.
Hendrik Munting (1583-1658) founded in 1642 a botanical garden situated within the fortification circuit of Groningen known as the 'Paradise of Groningen', with its hothouses and forcing frames. It was famous thoughout Europe and a place of horticultural pilgrimage. His son, Abraham, director of the garden from 1658 and professor of Botany at the university of Groningen, assembled the present collection of drawings. During his lifetime three of the drawings (nos. 15, 116, 138) were used as models for illustrations in his Waare Oeffening der Planten (Amsterdam: Jan Rieuwertsz, 1672, 4°, 40 plates; 2nd edition: 1682), a further five (nos. 2, 3, 89, 149, 150) in his Aloidarium... historia (Amsterdam: 1680, 4°, 8 plates) and 12 in the companion work De vera antiquorum Herba Britannica, also Amsterdam, 1680. According to the preface of the 1696 Naauwkeurige Beschryving... Abraham expanded the text of his Waare Oeffening by two thirds and had additional drawings prepared for a projected third edition. Abraham's death in 1683 prevented him from completing this project and the drawings appear to have remained unaltered, probably employed for reference and as teaching aids by his son Albert, who continued his father's work and gave tours around the garden. It is not known why Albert did not proceed with his father's plan, but the drawings were acquired by a group of "bekostigers" (backers) on Albert's death in 1694. They decided to proceed with the expanded edition, but with the text translated from the Groningen dialect into Dutch and Latin, and in a folio format. However most of the drawings were the wrong shape for a folio format and paper strips were added to the foot of the drawings. At first just scrolls were contemplated (as in Giovanni Battista Ferrari's Hesperides. Rome: V.Mascari, 1646), but then a full pictorial background was conceived: the first of its kind in a botanical work. A single artist was given the job and expected to link his additions to the already drawn plant not just visually but thematically, as there are many clever allusions to the name or character of the plants pictured. E.g. drawing 121 of Salvia features a frying pan and 52, Barba Iovis Recentiorum has Jupiter with his beard.
None of the ten or so artists of the initial line drawings have been identified, but the majority appear to have been commissioned directly by Abraham Munting. In most cases the the manuscript captions are in his hand and from internal evidence it would seem that he supplied the artist with actual examples of the plants to work from, together with a half-folio sheet of ready-captioned paper (that the illustrations were taken from life is confirmed by the preface to the 1696 edition of Naauwkeurige Beschryving...). The wash shading, heightening with white lead, scrolls, pictorial back- and foregrounds, pasted-on strips at the base of many drawings, indeed, all the later work added during the preparations for the publication of the Naauwkeurige... is by Jan Goeree (1670-1731), a pupil of Gerard de Lairesse, regularly employed by both Halma and van der Aa, and the acknowledged designer of the title of the printed work (cf. D.Becker Drawings for Book Illustrations: The Hofer Collection Harvard, 1980, no.4, illustrating Goeree's original drawing for the title). The various other marks and annotations, such as instructions to the engraver from the printer on the verso of the drawings, and traces of the indentations on the paper where the design was scored with a stylus for transfer to the copper plate, show that they were used as templates by the engravers. It is clear that the extensions to the drawings were made in the printer's shop, from the evidence of the paper used for them, including leaves from manuscript book catalogues. Once Goeree had finished his work of extending and embellishing the drawings, he handed them back to the printer who wrote instructions for the letter engraver; Joseph Mulder transferred the design onto the plate by scoring and engraving the plates exactly to scale; Jacob Gole was responsible for the etching. Where Goeree had not supplied a pictorial extension to the drawing it was either Gole or another artist who provided the lacking background (usually etched and bucolic in character) for the plate. The letter engraver then finished off the job; he put a calligraphic R or Rond on the back of some of the drawings to indicate that he had executed the (roman) lettering.
All but two of the drawings in this collection (nos. 60, 151) were used (or re-used) as models for the 1696 work Naauwkeurige Beschryving der Aardgewassen.
A complete listing of the drawings is available on request.
C.H.Andreas Hortus Muntigorum: Geschiedenes van de Groeningse Hortus in de Zeyentiende Eew (Groningen & Djakarta, 1953); Stafleu and Cowan III, pp.661-662; note to Hunt II. 404.
L.Tongiorgi-Tomaso. An Oak Spring Flora.. Upperville, Virginia: 1997, no.45, p.174; Hunt I.396; Nissen BBI 1428; Pritzel 6556.
D.Becker. op.cit. no.4.
A.MUNTING. Naauwkeurige Beschryving der Aardgewassen. Leiden & Utrecht: 1696 but Handzame, Belgium: Familia et Patria, 1968. 3 volumes, 2° (291 x 206mm). Titles in red and black. Plates and illustrations. Original cloth. Facsimile edition, this number 307 of an unstated limitation.