[DODART, DENIS and NICOLAS ROBERT. Estampes pour servir a l'histoire des plantes. Paris, c. 1685]. A COLLECTION OF 272 PROOF AND FIRST ISSUE PLATES.
Folio, 470 x 355 mm., later vellum over eighteenth-century boards, modern quarter morocco fleece-lined case, plate 1 creased and with a tiny patch, plate 14 spotted, minor stains to plates 6, 7, 81 and 221.
272 engraved plates, numbered in ink 1-271 (two plates numbered 231), at upper right corner outside the platemark; 10 plates with captions in pen and ink (nos. 63, 86, 88, 117, 145, 147, 181, 194, 195 and 211), the rest with engraved captions. The plates mostly by and after Nicolas Robert; also by Abraham Bosse and Louis de Chatillon after Robert, on paper bearing the watermark of Colombier with the arms of Cardinal Bouillon. One pen and ink and gray wash drawing of a geranium, on a smaller sheet, tipped in between plates 117 and 118.
The earliest known issue of the so-called Plantes du Roi, a "landmark of botanical illustration" (Blunt) probably printed at about the time of Robert's death in 1685 to provide an example of "work in progress" to the Academie royale des sciences. The Academy had conceived the idea in 1667 of publishing a complete history of plants, with chemical, medical and botanical analyses of all the species. Denis Dodart took over the project in 1673 upon his election to the Academy and published his Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire des plantes in 1675 with 39 plates from the present work. While the preparation of the text for the complete work languished, Robert and Bosse continued to prepare plates. Bosse died in 1676, and Robert in 1685, after which Louis de Chatillon completed the remainder. By 1692 a total of 319 plates had been engraved and deposited in the Imprimerie royale. The rising star of Tournefort's system of plant classification coupled with the expense of Louis XIV's foreign campaigns led to a waning interest in and a lack of funds for publication. In 1701 a few sets were printed, without letterpress; in 1719 Jean Marchant added details of plant structure to the plates, based upon Tournefort and Vaillant, with occasional changes of plant names, and a second issue appeared in 1788 under the title Receuil des plantes gravées par ordre du Louis XIV. Neither of the 1701 and 1788 issues was offered for sale; most were royal gifts. ONE OF THE RAREST OF ALL BOTANICAL BOOKS. "No less an authority than van Spaendonck, speaking in an age which knew the lovely work of Ehret and Redouté, proclaimed it the finest in the world." (Blunt).
See Laissus and Monseigny, "Les plantes du roi", in Revue d'histoire des sciences, vol. XXII, fasc. 3, pp. 193-236. See Nissen BBI 502 and 503.
Provenance: Robert de Belder (sale, Sotheby's London, 28 April 1987, lot 307).