Chronology : 1680-1699 1700-1709
1613 The Garden of Eichstätt
2016 SOLD for £ 1.93M including premium
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 173estimated £ 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.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's :
1624 The Scroll of Alchemy
2017 SOLD for £ 580K including premium
To this end the alchemists have two main objectives : to create gold by mingling sulfur and mercury and to obtain the elixir of life. In the state of knowledge of the Middle Ages such research was not aberrant. It was known how to gild the metals and to prescribe healing potions, and alchemy was indeed an additional issue of obtaining perfection by an initiatory transmission of empirical observations and by new experiments in the laboratory.
The first chemists were particularly skilled or fortunate alchemists but none of them could find the philosopher's stone or the elixir. Alchemy has fallen into disuse and has become an object of reprobation when the mechanisms of the universe have been explained by demonstrable principles. Unlike astrology which is only speculative, alchemy is an obsoleted precursor to modern science.
A Ripley scroll is a manuscript synthesis of alchemy. It is known in 23 copies which are very similar one another. The texts are partially in Middle English of the 15th century and its designation is a tribute to the most famous English alchemist from that time, George Ripley. The dates of these copies extend from the middle of the 16th century to the 18th century. The previous history of this work is not known.
The illustration of the Ripley scroll is a parody of Christian illuminations, from the alambic creation of man and woman by the alchemist and his assistants up to the liberation of the Apocalyptic monsters. The uninterrupted transition from one action to the next one in vertical scrolling is read like a fabulous comic strip. The comparison with Christianity must not go further and the instructions for use of a Ripley scroll in the secret cabinet of the alchemists remain a mystery.
Only one Ripley scroll is still in private hands. It is an assembly of seven vellum membranes of variable width for a total length of 3.70 m. It is dated 1624 in the colophon and signed by a craftsman registered in Manchester as a heraldic illustrator. This fantastic illuminated manuscript is estimated £ 200K for sale by Christie's in London on December 13, lot 22. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1638 Mechanics and Motion
2017 SOLD for € 730K including premium
He begins with cosmology. Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo, published in Florence in 1632, is placed on the following year in the Index of forbidden books. Galileo now suspect of heresy can no longer publish his works in a Catholic country. Fortunately this ban does not stop his activity.
The treatise on physics, titled Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche intorno a due nuove scienze attenenti alla mecanica e i movimenti locali, is ready in 1636. The comte of Noailles transmits a copy to Elzevier who publishes the book at Leyden in 1638. The book is dedicated to Noailles.
The Discorsi includes Galileo's assertion that the distance traveled in a naturally accelerated movement is proportional to the square of time. Galileo supports this discovery by describing an experiment using a steel ball rolling in a groove. For three and a half centuries the learned world will question the possibility of such measurement with the required accuracy at the time of that demonstration. It is now taken for sure that this very real experiment, published for the first time in the Discorsi, was made by Galileo in 1604.
On April 26 in Paris (Drouot), the auction house Pierre Bergé et Associés in co-operation with Sotheby's sells the association copy of the comte de Noailles, lot 21 estimated € 700K. Some typographical errors are present but without the usual erratum, suggesting that this copy was the very first that was released from Elzevier's presses. It is assembled in a sumptuous 'à la fanfare' binding attributed to Le Gascon, certainly commissioned by Noailles.
Physics is less disruptive than astronomy for the religious authorities and the Discorsi will not be threatened. Much later Einstein would acknowledge Galileo rather than Newton as the father of modern physics and more generally of modern science.
1638 Aves ad vivum by Holsteyn
2015 SOLD for $ 850K including premium by Sotheby's
1687 Principia by NEWTON
One of his outstanding skills was to develop mathematical methods of high complexity to analyze and support his own physical theories. Even before he was 30, he compared the motion of the planets and the fall of the bodies. Essentially preoccupied with his own understanding of the mechanism of the universe, he published reluctantly.
2016 SOLD for $ 3.7M by Christie's
The scientific stake is highly important and Halley manages to persuade Newton to disclose in their entirety his results concerning the law of universal gravitation. Edited and financed by Halley, Newton's Latin book entitled Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica is published in 1687 with the imprimatur of the Royal Society.
The book is difficult in the opinion of the author himself and the circulation probably did not exceed 300 copies but it is of such scientific importance that Halley and Newton took care of organizing their sale through booksellers. One of them named Samuel Smith is more specifically entrusted to the supply onto the Continent and receives about 50 copies for that purpose.
On December 14, 2016, Christie's sold one of the Smith 'Continental' presentation copies of the Principia for $ 3.7M from a lower estimate of $ 1M, lot 167. It is bound in its original unrestored morocco with gold and red inlays. The recipient is not identified.
2013 SOLD for $ 2.5M by Christie's
It had been presented by Halley to King James II, patron of the Royal Society. The Royal bindings from that reign are extremely rare.
1694 Autograph Notes by Newton and Gregory
2021 SOLD for £ 1.7M by Christie's
David Gregory was one of the happy few who were skilled to construct on the Principia. A professor of mathematics at the University of Edinburgh, he was 17 years younger than Newton. He was the first to lecture on the Principia and began communicating with Newton. In 1691 Newton managed to have Gregory elected to the Savilian chair of astronomy at the University of Oxford.
In May 1694 Gregory visited Newton in Cambridge in a six day working session based on the proposed revisions to the Principia. Their combined autograph manuscripts are heavily revised working documents based on the texts under discussion from throughout the Principia.
A scrap of paper 22 x 19 cm escaped for an unknown reason the deposit of Gregory's papers at the Royal Institution in the 1860s. These one and a half pages in Latin include 39 lines in Newton’s hand, alongside 14 lines and two diagrams by Gregory. They deal with three topics : the force acting in the compression of liquids, the orbit of the comets, the build of conic figures on centripetal forces.
This unpublished scientific draft was sold for £ 1.7M from a lower estimate of £ 600K by Christie's on July 8, 2021, lot 22. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The tweets illustrate both sides of the paper.
#AuctionUpdate A remarkable scientific manuscript by Sir Isaac Newton sold for £1,702,500, setting a new #WorldAuctionRecord for an #IsaacNewton manuscript. The manuscript contains autograph notes showing one of history's greatest scientific minds at work. □ □ pic.twitter.com/5CPmOmsiIO— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) July 8, 2021
1704 The Dispersion of Light
2015 SOLD for $ 1.33M including premium
In 1672, he manages to suppress the chromatic aberration in the telescopes and reveals his findings at the Royal Society which publishes his lecture in its Philosophical Transactions.
The great scientist had a difficult temperament and did not accept contradiction. Robert Hooke, who had considered before Newton a wave property of light, is challenging some elements. The hatred between the two physicists is irremediable. Newton refuses to publish his book all along Hooke's lifetime.
Fortunately, Newton also has friends such as Edmund Halley who helps him to publish in 1687 his seminal book on the use of mathematics to model the gravitational properties of matter, the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
Opticks is finally printed and released in London in 1704, curiously without the author's name, the year after the death of Hooke. Newton added two discussions on curvilinear figures, in order to establish his priority over an ongoing work by Leibniz.
The copy of Opticks presented by Newton to Halley is estimated $ 400K for sale by Sotheby's in New York on December 4, lot 918. It is not dedicated but Halley wrote on the inside title page: "Luceo. Ex dono doctissimi authoris". Luceo, which does not mean anything in Latin, is a burst of enthusiasm based on Lux.
1745-1749 The Scientific Archives of Cirey
2012 SOLD for € 960K including premium by Christie's
2018 SOLD for € 510K including premium
Helped by Maupertuis and Clairaut, the Marquise du Châtelet is able to understand and comment on Newton and Leibniz. In their château de Cirey, the marquis admires the exceptional intelligence of his wife and closes his eyes on her loves.
In 1734 Voltaire is disgraced. The Marquise lodges him in Cirey. She is 27 years old. The philosopher learns from his mistress the mathematics and physics that he had largely neglected until then.
The Marquise is a tireless worker. Her manuscripts, often written by secretaries and extensively reworked by her, surfaced a few years ago in an attic. Important pieces were sold by Christie's on October 29, 2012. A call for donations had been issued for an acquisition by the French State and 1400 researchers from around the world had signed a petition for a pre-emption. Both moves were unsuccessful because of the high prices that were expected.
The top lot was a set of 35 workbooks prepared from 1745 to 1749 by Madame du Châtelet for the didactic abstracts accompanying her translation of Newton's Principia Mathematica. Estimated € 400K, it was acquired in that sale for € 960K including premium by the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits de Paris which had immediately communicated its commitment to exhibit it to the public.
The museum was managed by Aristophil. In the same sale, Aristophil had anonymously acquired 8 lots of manuscripts by the Marquise, 2 lots of manuscripts by Voltaire on Newton and a portrait of the Marquise attributed to Marie-Anne Loir.
These 12 lots will be sold in Paris - Drouot on November 19 by OVA, the company in charge of the legal dispersion of the Aristophil collections. The auction is operated by Artcurial. Pieces from the 2012 sale are now lots 679 to 690. The abstracts of the Principia are the lot 689.
Lot 689 SOLD for € 510K including premium
1750 Microscope of the Duc de Chaulnes
1999 SOLD for £ 1M by Christie's
The duc de Chaulnes is altogether astronomer, physicist and engineer. One of his most spectacular contributions to knowledge is the simulation of lightning.
He also had the idea of combining the microscope and the micrometer, invented separately before him. This invention was fruitful because it immediately enabled to measure the small objects admired by Van Leeuwenhoek.
A small series of microscopes from the design of the duc de Chaulnes was made circa 1750. Some copies have survived.
The optical microscope and the mechanism are assigned to one of the most skilled clockmakers of his time, Claude-Siméon Passemant, also author of an astronomical clock which set the official time of the kingdom. The micrometer was made by André Maingaut. The scientific quality was at that time not inconsistent with luxury: its gilt bronzes may be attributed to Caffieri.
The first two instruments below have their tube wrapped in fishskin. One of them was sold for £ 1M by Christie's on July 8, 1999, lot 184 and the other one for € 900K by Sotheby's on October 22, 2008, lot 65.
Another one with no shagreen was sold for € 620K from a lower estimate of € 200K by Piasa on June 19, 2013.