3 volumes, folio (13 1/2 x 10 3/8 in.; 343 x 260 mm). Binding: Contemporary half green morocco, spines gilt in five compartments, green buckram covers, green marbled edges.
Neat repair to outer margin of title of vol. II, some spotting to titles, text, and a few plates. Bindings with some wear and rubbing.
Laurent (or Lorenzo) Berlèse was the greatest camellia expert of the nineteenth century. He was born in Campo Molino near Treviso, Italy, but carried out the majority of his research into the genus in France, using his private wealth to establish his own nursery and hothouses near Paris. Seeing the need for a formal classification system of the family, he first suggested that they be grouped according to a color gradation system. He first published the results of his researches in 1837 in his Monographie du genre Camellia, a revised edition of which was published in 1840. By 1845 he had abandonned the color system in favor of classification based on flower shape. In this third edition he listed 701 varieties.
The accompanying one-page autograph letter is dated 8 January 1843 and addressed to M. Gruneberg fils, horticulturist of Frankfurt. He tells M. Gruneberg of his admission to the Societé Royale d'Horticulture de Paris. He then goes on to thank Gruneberg for sending him a new variety of camellia (Camellia Teutonica) and to say that other growers are already claiming to possess examples of the new variety. Berlèese writes this off as mere "jalouise commerciale."
Working with the Frankfurt-born artist J.-J. Jung, who was a fellow member of the Societé Royale d'Horticulture de Paris, Berlèse began publication of the present work with a subscription list of 250. The work appeared in parts, each containing two plates with accompanying text, between 1839 and 1843. In the prospectus, Berlèse announced that the work would be illustrated by lithographs but he was apparently so dissatisfied with the quality of the color reproduction that he turned to handcolored engraving instead. In the introduction, Berlèse describes the work: "My Iconographie was not produced solely for commercial reasons, it is also a work of art, and a scientific treatise. My principal reason for publishing the Iconographie was to provide a faithful reproduction of nature, and to provide libraries with a book which accurately represented one of the most beautiful flowers of Asia and recorded the progress made in its study in Europe by both Art and Science. This is the task I set myself and I believe that it has been accomplished." Both the introduction and accompanying letter hint at Berlèse's dissatisfaction with the commercial side of camellia growing. This may explain his decision, taken in 1846, to abandon camellias. He sold the whole of his collection to a commercial nurseryman, gave up his studies, and returned to Italy, where he died in 1863.
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