Folio (20 3/4 x 14 in.; 527 x 355 mm). Binding: Bound to style in eighteenth-century half diced russia gilt, spine in eight compartments with red morocco labels in second, other compartments with elaborate gilt floral sprays, marbled boards, edges sprinkled blue.
Some light spotting and soiling, a few marginal tears repaired, "Gelle Roos" plate browned and with detached lower right corner skillfully reattached. Binding with covers rubbed.
A significant selection, here with the plates in mostly fine condition with superb contemporary handcoloring, of a work that is almost never found complete. The Hortus Nitidissimis is one of the finest of all published florilegia and includes a substantial contribution from Georg Dionysius Ehret, the greatest botanical flower painter of the eighteenth century. This work is undoubtedly one "of the finest records of the cultivated flowers of the period" (Dunthorne), and "a valuable florilegium of the plants, especially the florists' plants of the gardens of that time" (Great Flower Books).
The Hortus Nitidissimis is an unsurpassed gathering of sublime images of the most spectacular and colorful flowers grown in the pleasure gardens of Europe in the great age of scientific awakening, The supreme characteristic of the remarkable plates is the way in which the watercolor and bodycolor painting almost entirely eclipses the engraved lines. The plates are highly finished, each finely painted in opaque gouache, with the result that they each resembles original watercolors. Christoph Trew published his famous Plantæ Selectæ simultaneously, but in the present work he chose to emphasize not the scientific details of the plants, but their beauty. The artists were to capture that elusive and ephemeral moment when the blooms were at their flowering peak. Blunt calls this work the "most decorative florilegia of the mid-eighteenth century" and goes on to say that it "aimed at presenting a complete collection of the most magnificent tulips and crown imperials; the sweetest hyacinths, daffodils, narcissi and jonquils; the most charming roses, carnations and snowflakes; and the loveliest lilies, fritillaries, ranunculuses, anemones and auriculas." Of the 156 plates on 154 leaves in the present selection, it is not surprising to find a significant selection of the plants that engendered the greatest wonder and rivalry among the gentlemen gardeners of the mid-eighteenth century: 13 are of ranunculuses, 19 of hyacinths, and 27 of tulips.
Although the work was actually started by Johann Michael Seligmann (1720–1762), the engravings were based on the collection of flower drawings owned by the botanist and bibliophile Christoph Trew, a distinguished physician of Nuremberg. Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708–1770), who enjoyed Trew's patronage from 1732 and traveled widely on his behalf before settling in London in 1736, produced the designs for 40 of the eventual total of 180 plates. Ehret's designs for this work mark a pinnacle in his career that is unmatched among his other published work. The remaining plates are from drawings by a highly gifted group of European artists, including Johann Christoph Keller (1737–1795), Professor of Drawing at Erlangen University, the court painter Nikolaus Friedrich Eisenberger (1707–1771), Magnus Payerlein, Georg Wilhelm Baurenfeind, August Wilhelm Sievert, Johann Karrell, B. R. M. Wirsing, C. J. C. Wirsing Jr., M. M. Heumannin, J. J. Meyer, and Barbara Regina Dietzch.
The work was issued in parts, but the publication of plates and text was not simultaneous. As Stafleu and Cowan note, the plates for volume I were published between 1750 and 1766, while the text was published in 1756 and 1768 (probably actually 1767). The text of volume II appeared in 1772, although the plates were not finished till 1774. Text for the final volume was published in 1786, although the plates were issued between 1775 and 1792. Given this disjointed and extended publication period of 42 years, it is not surprising that the Hortus Nitidissimis is rarely found complete. Only one complete copy has ever appeared at auction—the De Belder copy, which sold most recently at Sotheby's London (10 May 2001, lot 19). Only five other substantial copies of the Hortus Nitidissimis have been sold at auction since 1978 (with plate totals varying between 143 and 178). A listing of plates in the Allen copy is available upon request.
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