Rariorum plantarum historia.

Antwerp, ex officina Plantiniana apud Ioannem Moretum, 1601.


Folio. pp. (xii) 364 + 348 (xii). Roman letter, occasional Italic and Greek. Five works in one, separate t-p to each. Over 1200 handsome woodcuts of plants, bulbs and fungi, general t-p within charming engraved architectural border with standing figures of Adam, Solomon, Theophrastus, and Dioscorides, finely drawn plants and cloud with ‘Jehova’ in Hebrew, decorated initials, typographical tailpieces. Light mostly marginal foxing, heavier in a few gatherings, the occasional marginal ink or water spot. Very good, crisp, well-margined copy on thick paper in contemporary ¾ Dutch blind-tooled pigskin over pasteboard with green paper, a few small old stains, a bit rubbed, minor loss to fore-edge of rear cover. Printed C19 ex-libris ‘C. Ph. F. Martii’ (Karl Friedrich Philipp von Martius), C19 ms. ex-libris of Rev. C. Walley and small label of the bookseller William Wesley to front pastedown, early casemark to verso of fep. Letter dated 7 October [18]97 from W. Thompson of Ipswich (mentioning the famous botanist Rev. F. Page-Roberts of Schole, Norfolk) on the cultivation of various plants and a lunar rainbow, and one page of ms. notes on the ‘Leucojum vernum’ (spring snowflake) by Rev. C. Walley.

A very good, well-margined copy, on thick paper with lovely woodcuts in fine impression, of these most influential works on botany. Charles Clusius (or Charles de l’Écluse) (1526-1609) was a Flemish doctor and one of the most important and renowned botanists of the C16. In the late 1550s, he began his collaboration with the Plantin press in Antwerp, which led to the publication of some of the most remarkable illustrated early modern books on plants. This edition contains the first part of Clusius’s complete works, the second was published in 1605. In his letter to the reader, Clusius explained that his work sought to add to the botanical wisdom of the ancients while clarifying the identification of plants which had remained obscure in classical texts—hence the inclusion of a thorough index of plant names in Greek and Latin. The ‘Rariorum plantarum historia’ presents the augmented results of Clusius’s ground-breaking field work in Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Italy and Austria, which led to the study of hundreds of previously uncatalogued plants. Each chapter is dedicated to an individual plant, which is illustrated with a woodcut and analysed in terms of appearance and habitat, with occasional references to ancient authorities. In addition to everyday plants like thyme, the oak and the violet, Clusius discusses more ‘exotic’ flora from other parts of Europe (e.g., gooseberries) and the New World (e.g., the potato). Not only did he write on these plants, he also supervised their cultivation in Maximilian II’s imperial garden in Vienna, and was among the first to encourage the growing of potatoes in Germany and Austria. There is also a novel section on bulbs, including numerous varieties of tulips, which influenced Dutch taste and economy and contributed to the development of early C17 ‘tulipomania’. The treatise on mycology, based on Clusius’s research in Hungary, describes the appearance and preferred habitats of individual ‘genera’ of fungi, and ends with Giovan Battista della Porta’s revolutionary observations on fungal spores, published in 1588. It also isolates the ‘fungi noxii et perniciosi’, including the ‘elegantissima’ amanita muscaria, from those that are edible. The volume concludes with the naturalists Honorius Belli and Tobias Roels, and with a descriptive glossary by Joannes Pona of plants found on Mount Baldo in the Alps. The outstanding illustrations have multiple sources: some were prepared following Clusius’s own working drawings, and several others were borrowed from previous botanical works like Dodoen’s herbal and the ‘Libri Picturati’, a collection of over 1400 watercoloured depictions of plants published in the C16.

This edition was printed in two issues—the first without Clusius’s portrait, printed separately, as here.

The remarkable provenance can be traced to Karl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794-1868), a German botanist and explorer. The results of his ground-breaking field work in Brazil were published in several volumes, including one devoted entirely to palm trees.

BL STC Dutch 1601-1621 L48: ‘Another reissue of the preceding’; Brunet II, 112 (issue with portrait); Nissen II, 372, 374; Osler 2326. F. Egmond, The World of Carolus Clusius: Natural History in the Making, 1550-1610, Cambridge, 2010.


Print This Item Print This Item