Robert (Nicolas) and Denis Dodart [Estampes pour servir à lhistoire des plantes], 2 volumes, engraved frontispiece by and after Sebastien le Clerc, 319 engraved plates by Nicolas Robert, Abraham Bosse and Louis de Chatillon after Robert, occasional engraved additions and alterations by Jean Marchant, all numbered in pencil, 15 without captions, occasional light spotting or browning, crease to frontispiece, plate 115 with small hole, plate 144 with 120mm. tear from lower margin just affecting image, without title and text (as issued) contemporary marbled calf gilt, rubbed, joints splitting, large folio (538 by 398mm.), Paris, [c.1786]
A RARE COPY OF THE FULL SUITE OF NICOLAS ROBERT PLATES ISSUED AS ROYAL GIFTS. This work, was conceived as a scientific venture in 1667 by the newly created Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris. Their intention was to publish a complete history of plants, and all the latest deductive and observational methods were to be applied to produce a work which would include chemical, medical and botanical analyses of all the species. Despite Colberts enthusiastic support, the project did not get underway until the botanist Denis Doadart joined the Académie in 1673. His work, Mémoires pour servir à lHistoire des Plantes, which was intended to form the introductory volume to this series, appeared in 1675 and contained thirty-nine plates engraved by Robert.
Putting to one side his regular activity of flower painting on vellum in order to concentrate on this project, Robert managed to produce an enormous number of engravings. At the time of his death in 1684, however, the work was far from complete It fell to Abraham Bosse to continue his work. The project was finally completed by the engraver and painter on enamel, Louis de Chatillon. Both he and Bosse based almost all of their engravings on the detailed drawings which Robert had prepared in red chalk. A limited number of plates, without any text, was published for the first time in 1701. Here the plants were presented in alphabetical order, an arrangement that necessitated the mixing of works by three different artists. These engravings were incorporated, with certain adjustments to the nomenclature as demanded by the Tournefort system of classification then in vogue, into a three-volume work that was finally published in 1788 (Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi, An Oak Spring Flora, p.168).
The alterations by Marchant, of some of the plant names, and the occasional addition of details of plant structures were carried out, at the insistence of the Académie Royale des Sciences, in 1719. In addition to the two issues mentioned above there seem to have been at least two other intermediate issues. It seems likely that others exist as the work was never offered for sale, was usually presented as a royal gift, and the plates were available throughout the first eighty years of the eighteenth century.
The present set constitutes a third intermediate issue, but conforms most closely to the de Belder copy (Christies New York, 4 June 1997, lot 38), an intermediate issue, which was in a presentation binding from the king dated 1786. The de Belder copy did not include the frontispiece but otherwise the contents appear to be identical.
A later issue appeared in 1788, with a variant title: Receuil des plantes gravées par ordre du roi Louis XIV. Brunet writes of this issue: M. Anisson a fait imprimer, vers1780 (sic), un frontispiece avec des éclaircissements sur ce receuil et une table des 319 pl., le tout formant 20ff.
References: cf. Brunet IV,.1325; cf. Nissen BBI 503 & 504: cf. Tongiorgi Tomasi, An Oak Spring Flora 43.
Provenance: early manuscript inscriptions in ?two different hands, including that of Monsieur Schickler of Bordeaux (pencilled inscription in French dated 1823, noting the purchase of the work at the sale of the library of Mr Schickler, an opulent Prussian).