Traité des arbres et arbustes qui se cultivent en France en pleine terre.

DUHAMEL DU MONCEAU Henri-Louis (1755)



I. 139 full-page woodcuts, 1 fold-out plate. II. 111 full-page woodcuts, 3 fold-out plates, both volumes with numerous engraved botanical vignettes throughout. 

4to. [4], lxii, 368pp; [4], 388pp. Eighteenth-century mottled calf, spines with five raised bands, foliage and thistles in gilt, contrasting labels of red morocco in second and third compartments, marbled edges and endpapers (scuffing to extremities). 

Paris: H. L. Guerin & L.F. Delatour, 

A handsome copy of the first edition of Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau’s (1700-1782) treatise on trees and shrubs, illustrated using Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s (1501-1577) famous sixteenth-century woodblocks.  

“Created between 1530 and 1565, the Mattioli woodblocks were drafted by the Italian painter Giorgio Liberale and the German woodcutter Wolfgang Meyerpeck and cut by no fewer than five woodcutters” (J. Wei-Hsuan Chen, ‘Mattioli woodblocks’), cut in pearwood, for the Czech edition of physician Mattioli’s commentary on Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica (Prague, 1562; the first, unillustrated printed in Venice: Nicolo de Bascarini, 1544); at the time, both Mattioli and Liberale were in the service of the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I and his son, themselves at their court in Prague. 'Many of the blocks in [this] edition had the signature 'GS' with a knife, which was cut off after the first printing' (Mortimer, no.295). 

“After the Czech edition and a 1563 German edition, the woodblocks went to Venice, to the print shop of Vincenzo Valgrisi … [who] used the woodblocks to print yet more editions, and that practice continued for many years, even after the deaths of both Mattioli and Valgrisi. However, after the early 1600s woodblocks fell out of use for botanical illustrations, as authors and printers began to favour the greater detail it was possible to achieve more easily by using engraved plates. The Mattioli woodblocks seem to have been stashed away until the mid-18th century, when the noted French botanist Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau purchased them.” (‘Pietro Mattioli and the Everlasting Woodblocks’, The Collation (Folger)). In a footnote to the Preface, Duhamel describes his good fortune in recovering almost all the blocks used by Valgrisi, and explains that additional illustrations for species not covered by Mattioli have been supplemented with cuts commissioned by the printers of the present work (p.x; of the 250 woodcuts in this work, around 150 are from Mattioli’s blocks).  

Many of the woodblocks that were passed down through Duhamel’s family, survived - in 1989, 110 were sold in a special, dedicated catalogue by Quaritch, Antiquariaat Junk & Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox (see The Mattioli Woodblocks (Quaritch, 1989)) and several currently exist in collections (as recently as 2009 the Wellcome Library acquired one - 'Ambrosia altera', and ten others are listed on OCLC in institutional collections, including the Fisher, Penn State, the University of Illinois, Louisiana State University, and the University of Southern California, some with Duhamel's note on the reverse). Despite the survival of these blocks, however, all those used in this work have been lost; this work is the last time they appeared in print.  

That Duhamel chose to illustrate his work with sixteenth-century woodcuts, rather than using the more modern methods of illustration available to him almost two hundred years later is testament to the accuracy, craftsmanship and visual beauty of the Mattioli blocks. In his Botanical Illustration, Wilfred Blunt singles out the woodcuts of trees as being amongst the finest of those in Mattioli's original work; 'the baffling intricacy of their detail never proved too difficult a task for either draughtsman or engraver' (Blunt, p.59). From detailed depictions of fruit and foliage, to intricate representations of individual pine needles, these woodcuts represent a developing naturalism in botanical illustration in the mid-sixteenth century that presented a contrast to largely stylised depictions to be found in earlier herbals.  

Duhamel himself was something of a polymath; a member of the Academie Royale des Sciences from 1730, Inspector General of the Navy from 1732, author of a pioneering treatise on agricultural practices (Traité de la culture des terres…, 1750) and recognised as one of the foremost agronomists of the eighteenth century (Viel, ‘Duhamel du Monceau’, Revue d’histoire des sciences, 38.1, 1985, pp.55-71), he developed his theories on botany and agronomy through experimentation on his own land; this Traité was the first in a series of seven works on the cultivation of trees in particular.  

Nissen, Botanische Buchillustration, 547.   Mortimer, Italian Books II, 295 (for the Valgrisi edition of Mattioli, and brief mention of this work). 

W. Blunt, The Art of Botanical Illustration (London, 1950), pp.57-60. J. Wei-Hsuan Chen, ‘Mattioli woodblocks in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection’, [accessed online]. C. Viel, ‘Duhamel du Monceau’, Revue d’histoire des sciences, 38.1, 1985, pp.55-71.  A. Weinberg, ‘Pietro Mattioli and the Everlasting Woodblocks’, The Collation (Folger) [accessed online].

Stock Code: 243647

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