Dionys Dodart (1634-1707)
Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire des Plantes. Paris: by Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy at l'Imprimerie Royale, [colophon date: 1675]-1676. Broadsheet 2° (545 x 414mm). Letterpress title with engraved vignette of Louis XIV's arms. Engraved frontispiece of the Académie Royale des Sciences by and after Sebastien Le Clerc printed by Goyton, 39 engraved full-page illustrations, the 35th (which depicts 2 species) a duplicate of the 34th, 28 by and after Nicolas Robert and 11 by Abraham Bosse after Robert, engraved headpiece, tailpiece and initial, all by and after Le Clerc. (Unobtrusive light spotting and marking, very light offsetting, a few leaves with small marginal tears or flaws skilfully repaired, unobtrusive marginal worm holes on leaves Tt-VVu, the majority skilfully repaired, small tear on leaf R skilfully repaired slightly affecting page number and one word, frontispiece remargined and supplied.) Contemporary crushed French morocco gilt, the covers panelled with triple gilt fillets surrounding the central gilt armorial of Louis XIV [Olivier 2494, fer 10, largest format (1287 x 105mm)], gilt 'L' monogram cornerpieces [Olivier 2494, fer 21, largest fromat (30 x 25mm)], treble gilt fillet border, the spine gilt in compartments, titled in one, the others decorated with gilt 'L' monogram tool [Olivier 2494, fer 21, medium format (25 x 20mm)], surrounded by gilt fleur-de-lys cornerpieces and gilt roll-tooled borders, gilt edges (covers a little rubbed and scuffed, recased in its contemporary binding, unobtrusive and skilful repairs to spine and covers).
PRESENTATION-BOUND 'FIRST EDITION OF ONE OF THE GREAT BOOKS IN THE HISTORY OF BOTANICAL ILLUSTRATION, where all the technical resources of engraving were utilized in presenting the plants as accurately as possible' (Hunt). The present work was born out of the desire of the Académie Royale des Sciences to publish a natural history of plants, an idea first proposed by Claude Perrault in 1667, shortly after the Académie's foundation in 1666. Following Dodart's election to the Académie in 1673 (under Colbert's patronage), he was charged with the task, and prepared the Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire des Plantes with other members. The first part ('Projet de l'histoire des Plantes', pp.-52) establishes the need for the work and the form of the descriptions and illustrations of the plants, and the second part ('Descriptions de quelques Plantes nouvelles', pp.53-131) comprises descriptions by N. Marchant and illustrations after Nicholas Robert of 39 species 'dont la pluspart sont rares, & n'ont jamais esté ny décrites, ny figurées' (p.53), in accordance with the structure proposed in the first part, describing the plants, their attributes, and the sources of the specimens.
The remarkable full-page illustrations were engraved from drawings by Nicolas Robert (1614-1685) 'made for the most part from life; in the case of several rare plants, he was obliged to adapt paintings which he had previously made on vellum at the Jardin du Roi. Robert in his Fiori Diversi and more particularly in another volume entitled Diverses Fleurs (c.1660), had already shown his skill as an engraver. In this more exacting task he was now assisted, or perhaps directed, by the engraver Abraham Bosse' (Blunt p.122). The intention for the illustrations was that 'wherever possible, the plants were to be portrayed life-size; if larger, but not more than twice the size of the page, they would be represented as cut in two; if still larger, but not more than twice the size of the page, they would be represented as cut in two; if still larger, some detail would be givenfull-scale, so that the true size of the plant could be better appreciated. Moreover, all the technical resources of engraving were to be fully utilised. The preface continues: ''Since printing in colour is not employed yet, and since painters waste much time and are not always successful, we thought we could, in future, supply to some extent what was lacking in an engraving, by taking care to indicate, as far as is feasible, the depth of the colour. Thus a distinction would be made between brownish-green and pale green, between white and dark-coloured flowers..."'. These techniques led to images of such remarkable beauty and quality that 'numerous authorities agree that Dodart's plates rank among the best botanical engravings ever produced' (Gavin D.R. Bridson and Donald E. Wendel Printmaking in the Service of Botany ... (Pittsburgh: Hunt Institute, 1986), item 16).
The armorial presentation binding of the present copy makes it part of a select group that includes the Plesch-de Belder copy (Christie's, New York 4 June 1997, lot 1) and the Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt copy. BM(NH) IV, p.1515; Brunet II, col. 785; Graesse II, p.415; Hunt 343; Nissen BBI 502; Pritzel 2341