Le Grand Herbier, contenantes les qualitez vertus et proprietez des herbes, arbres, gommes, semences, huyles et pierres precieuses.

Paris, Alain Lotrian, c. 1530.


4to. ff (xxii) 176. Double column, small lettre bâtarde, white on black initials. Title in red and black within typographical border with two woodcuts of plants and large decorative initial, printer’s large device (faded) on verso of last, more than 300 woodcut illustrations, almost all of plants. Title page a little browned with slight marginal fraying, light oil stain in final gathering, two holes on last leaf affecting a few letters and printer’s device on verso, general age yellowing. A not unused but still good copy of a famously rare work in c. 1900 vellum over boards, attractive bookplate 1934 on pastedown. Quaritch pencil collation at end, all edges red in slipcase.

Rare and early edition of an anonymous French herbal based on the Antidotarium of Matthaeus Platearius, and likely a shared printing by Lotrian, Janot, Petit and Le Noir. There are probably three earlier editions: two towards the end of the incunable period and another by Nyverd c. 1520. There is some variation in the illustrations but the texts are substantially the same and none is readily obtainable. The twenty-two preliminary leaves comprise a very detailed table of contents, an explanation of obscure terms, and a page index. The text, following a short prologue, is arranged in alphabetical order of plants (usually illustrated) followed by their description and an account of their medical uses.

The work is essentially a pharmacopoeia, inspired by Avicenna, Rhazes, Constantine, and Hippocrates. It is designed for remedial purposes by country doctors, practical apothecaries and laymen. It also draws on the writings of Jewish and Arab physicians and scholars of the Middle Ages. The cuts, accurate and attractive, are for the most part reduced versions of those appearing in the first edition. Here they are printed in good, clear impression throughout, in a hand similar to Gart of Grunninger. They were clearly addressed to a popular readership.

Although similar in scope to the better known German herbals, the Grand Herbier or Arbolayre is textually different, in essence a French imitation of the ‘Secrets of Salerno’. It is the only herbal to have originated in France and unsurprisingly almost all early editions are now known in only a handful of copies. Very few scientific ‘Gothiques’ are obtainable.

BM STC Fr. C16 has later edition only. Brunet I 378, see Fairfax Murray I 226. Not in Mortimer, Harvard or Durling. Becher p.41 et seq., Wellcome I other edns. Hunt p.47. “The work is of special interest to British botanists since it was translated into English and published in 1526, as the ‘Grete Herbal.’ Arber p.24.


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