A. P. de Candolle and P. J. Redouté. Plantarum succulentarum historia. Paris: Pierre Didot, 1799. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

A. P. de Candolle and P. J. Redouté. Plantarum succulentarum historia. Paris: Pierre Didot, 1799. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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A. P. de Candolle and P. J. Redouté. Plantarum succulentarum historia. Paris: Pierre Didot, 1799. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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Plantarum succulentarum historia ou histoire naturelle des plantes grasses

Author: A. P. de Candolle and P. J. Redouté.
Ref No: 1799 CAND
Date Created: 1799

In a turbulent age, when the political connections that assured advancement in one decade could guarantee beheading in the next, the Belgian flower painter Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) led a charmed life, his exquisite craftsmanship appreciated as much by the Empress Josephine as it had earlier been by Marie Antoinette.

In the mid-1790s, Redouté was introduced to a brilliant young student, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (1778-1841), who had recently arrived from Switzerland. Plantarum succulentarum historia, was the first in a series of learned treatises that established de Candolle’s reputation as the foremost botanist of his age and one of the greatest of all time. In the first decade of the nineteenth century he was invited by the French government to conduct a botanical and horticultural survey of all France. In later years he taught at the universities of Montepellier and Geneva.

Plantarum succulentarum historia was hailed as Redouté’s masterpiece too. As well as contributing most of the original paintings (a few were done by his younger brother Henri Joseph), he prepared the copperplate engravings using a new pointillist or ‘stipple’ technique that was his own invention. Instead of the continuous lines favoured by other engravers, Redouté preferred a succession of finely spaced dots. His method, he successfully demonstrated, allowed different inks to be held on the plate simultaneously, thereby enabling a coloured image to be printed from a single plate rather than several. A perfectionist, Redouté added some hand-done touches after printing.

Although the exquisite quality of the illustrations is universally acknowledged, Plantarum succulentarum historia has also been described as a ‘bibliographic nightmare’. It was originally issued in parts and de Candolle and Redouté kept adding instalments decades after the first bound volumes appeared. Thus it is exceptionally difficult to say what constitutes a complete copy. Donated by Sir George Grey, the Library’s copy is a large folio volume containing 144 plates.

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