De Bry’s Important Florilegium, complete with all 142 plates

FLOWERS. GARDENING. BOTANY. Bry, Johann Theodor de (1561-1623?)

Anthologia magna, siue, Florilegium novum & absolutum, variorum maximeque rariorum germinum, florum ac plantarum, quas pulchritudo, fragrantia, vsus varietas, differentia commendat, & non tantum noster hic, sed & aduersus veteribusque ignotus orbis è foecundo suo procreat gremio: eicones elegantissimæ, summa cum diligentia ad vivum, quantum artifici manu per monochromata fieri potuit, æri incisæ, & cum suis caulibus, scapis, folijs, flosculis, calyculis, bulbis, radicibusque ad naturæ inuidiam anthophili spectatoris oculis expositæ. Additis eorum proprijs, veris ac genuinis nominibus.

Frankfurt: Ex officina Bryana, 1626


Folio: 31.5 x 20 cm. 6 lvs. (Engraved title page, booksellers’ addresses to the beholder, preface (addressed to the “flower-loving reader”), poem, 2-page description of “some exotic plants” in this book), and 142 engraved plates (five folding) of plants as follows: 1-23, 1-37, 37 bis, 38-50, 50 bis, 51-110, 1 unnumbered plate (numbered “111” in ink), 112-116, 1 unnumbered plate. The plate 23 bound here in the first sequence is usually bound after plate 23 in the second sequence. Complete.

FIRST EDITION, a greatly expanded version of the author’s “Florilegium Novum”(ca. 1612).

Bound in contemporary limp vellum, soiled and a bit rumpled. A fine copy internally, light edgewear to plates, some mild damp-stains, mostly marginal, to about 14 plates, edges of title finger-soiled. Provenance: inscriptions on title of Aegidius Carolomann Rys (1685) and the Dutch botanist and physician David van Royen (1749). David van Royen succeeded his uncle, Adriaan van Royen, as Director of the Leiden Botanic Gardens, where he greatly added to the collections. He had studied medicine at Leiden University, earning his degree in 1752, before being appointed professor of botany at Leiden in 1754. He retired in 1786. Van Royen was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1759. His major publications were ‘Oratio de hortis publicis’ (1754) and ‘Novae plantae Schwenkia’ (1766).

This is a greatly expanded edition (with 55 additional plates) of the author’s “Florilegium Novum”(ca. 1612), which had only 87 plates, all of which are included here. 

“Johann Theodor de Bry belonged to a noted family of engravers from Frankfurt. De Bry’s father, Theodor, a draughtsman, engraver and goldsmith, was born in Liege but eventually transferred to Frankfurt, where he set up a printing shop. De Bry and his brother Johann Israel, after learning the rudiments of their trade in these modest surroundings, went on to become two of the most talented and prolific engravers of their time.

“Although De Bry was already a fully mature artist when he began engraving and printing his first book of flowers, he recognized that this genre presented a difficult challenge, for to imitate the endless variety of colors in nature was a task perhaps beyond the skill of even the greatest master. But as De Bry insisted in his dedication: ‘Of all the things which spring from this earth, flowers are the most beautiful for their grace and dignity, just as man surpasses every other living thing in dignity of body and soul.’ Drawing on a recurring theme in the art and literature of the period, he further reflected that the flower’s fragility should serve as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of all worldly things, and bids us to think of the hereafter.

“The publishing history of this work is quite complex, owing perhaps to the fact that the engravers and printers were one and the same persons. The Jardin du Roy that Vallet had published just a few years earlier provided a useful model for De Bry, who did not hesitate to copy a number of images from it with only minor modifications – leaving out the butterflies and insects, for example, and adding roots and bulbs. The illustrations of the narcissus in plate 15, although arranged somewhat differently, were clearly drawn from Vallet’s work, while plate 28 shows a number of anemones adapted from it. Since the images were directly copied onto copper plates, when printed they appear as mirror images of the originals.

“Many non-European plants appear in the ‘Florilegium novum’, [and the ‘Anthologia’] such as the ‘Hyacintus Peruanus’, the ‘Narcissus Indicus flore rubro vulgo iacobeus’ or Spekelia, and the “Ananas fructus Indicus Orientalis’. Other plates show examples of the floral ‘monstrosities’ that were cultivated in Baroque gardens, among them the ‘Anemone Pavota latifolia multiplex flore miniato’ in plate 32, or two Turk’s-cap lilies (Lilium martagon) – one with a deformed stem that bloomed on 20 July 1608 in the garden of Bernahart Barth von Harmatting in the city of Beyrn (plate 68), and the other that brought forth the anomalous blooms pictured here in the summer of 1613 in the garden of Jacobo de Fay in Frankfurt (plate 83).

“The unsurpassed artistry for which De Bry was renowned throughout Europe emerges clearly in the plates of this florilegium. Each has been carefully composed, and the confident lines of the engraving, with their fine shading, denote the hand of a true master.

“The first printed herbals date from the middle decades of the sixteenth century, while the first florilegia began to appear around 1600. The herbals compiled by the great botanists of the sixteenth century were conceived as scientific texts in the modern sense… The florilegia were intended for quite a different audience, less specialized but more refined in its taste, composed of collectors and amateurs fleuristes. Flowers that had been valued only for their medicinal properties or symbolic associations finally came to be appreciated for their own sake, that is, appreciated on purely aesthetic grounds.

“During the first half of the seventeenth century, many wealthy aristocrats began to collect rare natural curiosities – not only minerals, bones, stuffed fish and birds, which they proudly displayed in the Wunderkammern, but also unusual flowers, which they considered ‘miracles’ of nature and which they cultivated in order to impress visitors to their vast pleasure gardens. This mania for collecting was fed by the arrival (beginning in the last decades of the sixteenth century) of large numbers of new species from the Balkan peninsula, the Near and Far East and the New World, a phenomenon that was destined to transform the floral panorama of central and Mediterranean Europe. These hitherto unknown plants quickly became fashionable items, avidly sought after by every collector. The bulbous plants in particular, such as the iris, the narcissus, the scarlet lily, the fritillary (called the ‘imperial crown’) and, above all, the tulip, were in great demand. Collectors were also fascinated by ‘flores singulares’, flowers with peculiar anomalies, such as double blooms, teratologic forms or unusual colors. Such anomalies were actually the fruit of somatic or genetic mutations that occur naturally under certain growing conditions, but sixteenth-century floriculturists were convinced that they were due to esoteric processes they had devised and jealously sought to keep secret.

“It was only with the inception of the florilegium, however, that the beauty of these new, rare or strange flowers could be captured for posterity. As the notary J. Laurent of Laon remarked in his treatise on plants, fruits and flowers published in 1675, the ‘Grands Fleuristes’ were those ‘qui font peindre leurs fleurs avec remarque de leur noms… et en jouissent ainsi toute l’annee. Unlike the herbal the florilegium was accompanied by only the most summary of texts, and sometimes had no text at all; instead, it featured a large number of plates whose object was to reveal the sheer beauty of each flower’s form and color rather than document its botany. Generally, only the cut flower was depicted, although sometimes the root or bulb was also shown. As in the herbals that preceded them, the illustrations in these florilegia were meticulously drawn from life, although the artist took pride in arranging the various specimens and parts of the flower in elegant and effective compositions on the page. His task frequently was not to depict ‘typical’ specimens as clearly as possible for the benefit of the botanist, but to concentrate on unusual flowers bearing features quite unlike those of the ordinary indigenous or cultivated species.

“The first florilegia were commissioned by amateur botanists and floriculturists, or by aristocrats who wished to have a permanent record made of the rare flowers being cultivated in their gardens. But soon, artists specializing in flower painting, as well as embroiderers, weavers and other artisans, began to use these works as a source of motifs for their canvases or looms.”(Tomasi, An Oak Spring Flora)

Nissen, BBI 273; Pritzel 1446; de Belder 92