FUCHS, Leonhart


FUCHS, Leonhart

Basel, [Michael Isengrin], 1545


8vo. pp. (xxiv) 516 (iv). Gothic letter, with Roman. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p, 516 full-page woodcut plants and herbs (one hand-coloured), decorated initial. T-p and following two minimally spotted at margins, slight yellowing, clean vertical tear without loss to outer blank margin of B3, slight foxing to some edges. A very good, fresh, well-margined copy in contemporary German pigskin, late C15 ms. used as spine lining just visible, double blind ruled to a panel design, outer border with blind roll of Lucretia (with ‘CG’), Justice, Prudence and Suavitas (with ‘1539’) (EBDB r000099), inner border with blind-stamped ‘CCC’(?) (overwritten in ink ‘MVV’), ivy leaves and ‘1546’, centre panel with blind-stamped fleurons, raised bands, a little worn. C17 ms. ‘Bibl. Aul.(?) Darmst. Ren. 49 loc. 5’ [crossed out: R. 37. L. 5], C17 ms. ‘Philippus Hassiae Landgravius’ and C16 ms. ‘MVV’ and C16 ‘Jos. Lautenb.’ to t-p, few ms. annotations (in Lautenbach’s hand?), ms. ‘Joseph. Lautenbach’ at foot of rear pastedown.

The very typical binding was produced in 1546 in the workshop of Caspar Genseler (EBDB w007729, Haebler I, 136-139) of Wittenberg, for the unidentified C.C.C. The rolls, marked 1539, had been in use for nearly 10 years. The copy was later in the library of Joseph Lautenbach (1568-c.1614), physician, professor at Giessen (established in Hesse in 1607), and author of several works including ‘Consilia medicinalia’ (1605) (‘Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon’, 2318). It was then in the library of Philip III (1581-1643), Landgrave of Hesse-Butzbach (1609-43). Learned and a scholar of mathematics and astronomy acquainted with Kepler and Galileo, he accumulated a large library in Butzbach. As he died heirless, his Landgraviate merged with that of Hesse-Darmstadt; its ms. ex-libris appears in this copy, with casemark revisions.

A very good, well-margined copy of the second Latin edition of this famous herbal—a masterpiece of botanical illustration and the first to reproduce New World plants. Leonhart Fuchs (1501-66) was a German botanist and personal physician to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. He established the first medicinal garden at Tübingen. ‘De historia stirpium’ was ground-breaking for its unprecedented attention to illustration. The 516 full-page woodcuts—here in fresh impression and with wide margins—were reduced copies, in reverse, of larger ones cut by Veit Rudolf Specklin after Heinrich Füllmaurer and Albrecht Meyer, for the 1542 folio edition. ‘In the C16 the same spirit which inspired Vesalius and others in the field of anatomy served also as the inspiration for the study of flora from actual specimens, culminating in what is certainly the most celebrated and probably the most beautiful herbal ever published’ (‘Heirs of Hippocrates’, 143). As compared to Dodoens’s, Fuchs’s woodcuts are minimalist as they ‘exhibit minimal shading, which makes it impossible to determine the direction of the light source, point of view, or details of texture or of patterns’, focusing instead on the plain morphology (Kusukawa, 109). This portable edition was clearly devised as a practical manual for botanists and physicians. Unlike the folio, it does not include the Latin text on the medical characteristics of plants; only the woodcuts with the German and Latin names of each, and the copious index. Fuchs justified the illustrations by saying that in some cases plants cannot simply be described with words alone. This was especially the case with the obscure plants from the Americas—chilli, pumpkin, tobacco, potato, maize—which he received from fellow botanists and to which he attributed Latin names drawn from plants mentioned by Pliny which bore a plausible resemblance.

The annotations in this copy, probably by Joseph Lautenbach, comprise a few references to Johannes Monhem’s descriptions of the properties of plants in ‘Elementorum physiologiae’ (1542) and alternative Latin names. A very good copy, with fascinating provenance.

Heirs of Hippocrates 143; Wellcome I, 2448; Heralds of Science, 19; BM STC Ger., p.326; Nissen, Botanische Buchillustration, 661. Not in Durling (first or later eds only). S. Kusukawa, Picturing the Book of Nature (Chicago, 2012).
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