The prince-bishop of Eichstätt is passionate about flowers. His garden has eight sections or terraces where plants are grouped according to their origin. He entrusts the maintenance of the garden and the drawings of the plants to a botanist-apothecary based in Nuremberg, Basilius Besler.
Besler prepares 366 plates with an average of three plants per page. They are classified by season and the reader can compare the phases of a plant including bulb, flower and fruit. The Hortus Eystettensis is issued in 300 copies in 1613, in a very large format 54 x 42 cm. The deluxe version is only printed on one side to avoid the shadow of the back, and hand colored. It may be the most expensive book of its time.
A few copies began circulating in Rome in the circle of the Accademia dei Lincei. This academy is one of the earliest scientific societies in the modern sense of that wording. Its goal is to understand nature from an objective observation. In 1611, the Accademia welcomes into its ranks Galileo and also Faber, the director of the papal botanical garden.
It was known that one of the last sets of uncolored plates of the Hortus Eystettensis was purchased for the use of Faber in 1617. We did not know more. It is probably this one that has just surfaced.
On July 13 in London, Christie's sells that deluxe copy, lot 173 estimated £ 800K. It is complete of Besler's 366 plates, without the additional botanical text. Before it got its binding, this copy was supplemented with fifteen drawings and one print of a rare plant that was the pride of the garden of Cardinal Farnese. This 1619 dated plate is dedicated to Faber. The whole book was colored by a single hand.
Let us comment the considerable interest of the Roman Catholic aristocracy for flowers. The preparation of the Hortus Eystettensis is indeed contemporary to the artistic study of flowers executed throughout the summer of 1606 by Jan Brueghel from the incitement of the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan.
SOLD for £ 1.93M including premium
Please watch the video shared by Christie's :