Basel: M. Isengrin, 1542.
1st Edition. Hardcover. Folio - over 12 - 15" tall. Near Fine. Item #003245
Folio (362 x 237 mm). , 896,  pp. Signatures: α6 β8 A-Z6 a-3f6. Greek, roman and italic types. 509 full-page botanical woodcuts, 3 smaller cuts in the text, by Veit Rudolph Speckle after Heinrich Füllmauer and Albert Meyer, full-page portrait of the author on title verso, portraits of the 3 artists on fff5r, printer's device on title, repeated on final verso, historiated woodcut initials in various sizes. All woodcut illustrations and devices elaborately and fully colored by a contemporary hand. 3 leaves of supplemental 17th to 18th-century manuscript indices bound in after prelim. leaf ?4. Late 17th- to early 18th-century French calf, spine with 6 raised bands gilt in compartments and with gilt-lettered morocco label, red-dyed edges. Minor repairs to leather at hinges and corners, but keeping the entire book block untouched and in its original state, later endpapers. Housed in a custom-made cloth box. Internally generally crisp and clean, occasional smaller ink smudges or light-brown spots mostly toward lower blank margin, longer tear with old paper repair on pages 166 and 486, shorter clean tears to a total of 13 leaves elsewhere, page 183/4 with small central hole due to paper flaw costing one letter of text on verso, small wormtrack towards gutter of lower blank margin of first gatherings, the final two leaves somewhat soiled and creased, a few further leaves slightly creased at upper margin, small dampstain to leaf i2. Provenance: from a German private collection, 17th to 18th century neat ink annotations in Latin and French to botanical illustrations. An exceptional, well margined copy with the book block untouched and without major interventions or supplied leaves. ----
FIRST EDITION OF FUCHS' MAGNUM OPUS, WITHOUT EQUAL AMONG THE BOTANICAL WORKS OF ITS TIME. A VERY FINE COPY WITH ALL WOODCUTS IN CONTEMPORARY COLORING. Fuchs' herbal earned its reputation as "perhaps the most celebrated and most beautiful herbal ever published" (PMM) by virtue of its text and its woodcut illustrations which are largely true to nature and allow for plant identification. According to Meyer, "the figures in the Historia command universal recognition and praise for their simple elegance and naturalness of form, traits that place this herbal among the landmarks of the history of botanical iconography" (Meyer, p.116). Unusual for the time, full acknowledgment was given to the three artists involved in producing the work: the plants were drawn from nature by Albrecht Meyer, of Basel, transferred to woodblocks by Heinrich Füllmaurer, of Herrenberg, and finally carved into wood by Viet Rudolf Speckle, "by far the best engraver in Strasbourg" (Fuchs, App. 1 [60}). Such was their importance that their group portrait is included on the final page. Although Fuchs based much of his text on the traditional Dioscoridean corpus, he enriched it with cogent practical observations on actual specimens, taking care to show its roots, stalk, leaves, flowers, seeds and fruits. He chose accuracy over artistic interpretation and intended his herbal to be consulted as much, if not more, for the illustrations as the text.
"The production of the Historia coveted a period of approximately ten years from the time of its inception to publication. The unevenness of the drawings, from poor to very high quality, reflects this time lapse. Since the flowering season was limited, the drafting of the original drawings was confined to a few months of the year. This required speed as well as accuracy ... Fuchs's garden near the fourteenth-century Nonnenhaus in Tübingen was undoubtedly a major source of the plants used by the artists to illustrate the herbal, especially the exotics ... With a few exceptions, the figures in the Historia are original. In a provocative paper on the herbals of Brunfels and Fuchs, Church correctly observes that at least two figures from Brunfels's Herbarum vivae eicones were adapted by Fuchs's draftsmen ... Fuchs probably felt the influence of Brunfels in another way - namely, as a model for the use of woodcuts as plant portraits, one to a page. Plant pictures are rendered as full-page plates throughout the Historia. The only exceptions are two species of moss (Bryophta) figured together on the same page as text figures." (Meyer, p.118-9). The highly detailed illustrations include the first depictions of approximately forty plants, including several recently discovered American species, among them maize (which Fuchs believed to have originated in Turkey), chili pepper and the pumpkin. The illustrations served as models not only for the many later editions, including a number of "pocket-sized" octavo or duodecimo volumes, but also for the illustrations of the botanical works of Bock, Dodoens, William Turner and others.
It is correct to assume that the unshaded outline woodcuts were intended to be colored. "Centuries before Fuchs, the tradition of colored figures in herbals had already been established - first by Crateuas in the first century B.C. The Juliana Anicia Codex of A.D. 512 is the oldest manuscript on plants with colored illustrations, but many medieval herbals are colored. In the modern era, beginning in the Renaissance, the prototype among colored herbals is Fuchs's Historia stirpium, although the early printed herbals of the fifteenth century were sometimes colored. When published, the Historia appeared in two states, with uncolored figures or with hand-colored figures after the originals in Fuchs's manuscript. The colored figures are rendered in water-colors, often called aquarelles ... The thinness of the lines in the figures was intentional, because Fuchs expected that some copies would be colored at the time of publication. In the Dedicatory Epistle, Fuchs explains that 'over and over again, we have purposely and deliberately avoided the obliteration of the natural form of the plants lest they be obscured by shading and other artifices that painters sometimes employ to win artistic glory' (Fuchs, App. 1 ). More explicitly, Fuchs describes the colors found in the kernels of maize, Zea mays (p. 825): 'From the tip of the sheaths thin hairs hang, spotted sometimes with white, sometimes yellow, sometimes purple, as is quite well shown in the one picture, which will depict for you all the types. This shows you four colors of grain in one sheath, although actually each one has all its grains of only one color, either yellow or purple, russet or whitish.'" (Meyer, p.119). This careful explanation shows clearly that colored copies must have formed an integral part of the edition, for Fuchs's words would be meaningless if the whole had been issued uncolored. (see Arber, p.315). In the hand-coloring, our copy predominantly follows the two known copies of the first German edition 1543 (Hofbibliothek Regensburg and Stadtbibliothek Ulm) which are supposed to have been colored under Fuchs' supervision (see Meyer, p.120). According to Meyer, of the 150 copies in libraries he could retrieve, only 48 are colored, but in fact only a few with original coloring.
References: Printing and the Mind of Man / PMM 69; Dibner, Heralds of Science, 19; Horblit, One Hundred Books famous in Science, 33b; Sparrow, Milestones of Science, 72; Adams F-1099; Fairfax Murray I, 175; Grolier/Norman 17; Hunt 48; Nissen BBI 658; Pritzel 3138; Stearn, W.T., The Use of Bibliography in Natural History, in: Bibliography & Natural History, London, 1966; Meyer, F. G., The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs, Vol. 1, Stanford Univ. Press, 1999); Arber, A., The colouring of sixteenth-century herbals, pp. 315-317. In: Herbals: Their Origin and Evolution (Agnes Arber, William Thomas Stearn, editors). Cambridge University Press, 1986. - Visit our website to see more images!
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