DODART, Denis and Nicolas ROBERT. [Estampes pour servir l'histoire des plantes.] Paris: [circa 1786].
2 volumes, broadsheet (542 x 386 mm). Engraved throughout, without title and text (as issued). Frontispiece of the first meeting of the Académie royale des sciences by and after Sebastien le Clerc, 319 engraved plates by Nicolas Robert, Abraham Bosse and Louis de Chatillon after Robert, with occasional engraved additions and alterations by Jean Marchant, all numbered in pencil, 16 without captions. (Occasionally some light browning and staining, plate 32 in first vol. with rust mark in center of image). Contemporary marbled calf gilt, sides with central arms of Louis XVI, spine with blue and red morocco lettering-pieces (rebacked, two covers detached, some wear to spine ends and edges).
A RARE COPY OF THE FULL SUITE OF NICOLAS ROBERT PLATES ISSUED AS ROYAL GIFTS AND A MASTERPIECE OF THE GREATEST NATURAL HISTORY ARTIST OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY. The work, in a formal sense, was never published and offered for public sale. It was conceived as a scientific venture in 1667 by the newly created Academie royale des sciences in Paris. Their intention was to publish a complete history of plants, all the latest deductive and observational methods were to be applied to produce a work which would include chemical, medical and botanical analyses of all the species. Despite Colbert's enthusiastic support, the project did not move forward until "the botanist Denis Dodart... joined the Acadmie in 1673. His work, Mémoires pour servir á l'histoire des plantes, which was intended to form the introductory volume to this series, appeared in 1675 and contained thirty-nine plates engraved by Robert" (see previous lot).
"Putting to one side his regular activity of flower painting on vellum in order to concentrate on this project, Robert managed to produce an enourmous number of engravings. At the time of his death in 1684, however, the work was far from complete... It fell to Abraham Bosse... to continue his work. The project was finally completed by the engraver and painter on enamel, Louis de Chatillon. Both he and Bosse based almost all of their engravings on the detailed drawings... which Robert had prepared in red chalk. A limited number of plates, without any text, was published for the first time in 1701. Here the plants were presented in alphabetical order, an arrangement that necessitated the mixing of works by three different artists. These engravings were incorporated, with certain adjustments to the nomenclature as demanded by the Tournefort system of classification then in vogue, into a three-volume work that was finally published in 1788." (Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi, An Oak Spring Flora, p.168).
The alterations by Marchant, which include the occasional addition of details of plant structures and the alteration of some of the plant-names, were carried out, at the insistence of the Académie royale des sciences, in 1719. In addition to the two issues mentioned above there seem to have been at least two other "intermediate issues". It seems likely that others exist given that the work was never offered for sale and usually presented as a royal gift and that the printing plates and probably "old" stocks of the individual prints were available throughout the first eighty years of the 18th century. The present set constitutes a third intermediate issue, but conforms most closely to the de Belder copy (Christie's New York, 4 June 1997, lot 38), an intermediate issue, which was in a presentation binding from the king dated 1786. The de Belder copy did not include the frontispiece but otherwise the contents appear to be identical.
A later issue appeared in 1788, with a variant title: Receuil des plantes graves par ordre du roi Louis XIV. Brunet writes of this issue: "M.Anisson a fait imprimer, vers 1780 [sic.], un frontsipice, avec des claircissements sur ce receuil et une table des 319 pl., le tout formant 20ff." Cf. Brunet IV.1325; cf. Nissen BBI 503 & 504; cf. An Oak Spring Flora 43. (2)