Catalogue 32
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CESALPINO, Andrea. De Plantis ... . Florence, Giorgio Marescotti, 1583.

4to. [21 x 14.5 cm], (10) ff., 621 pp., (5) ff. Bound in 18th-century boards, some abrasion, scattered foxing. From the libraries of the noted botanists Camerarius, Panzer and Martius (see below), with annotations. A crisp copy.


First edition, and an important annotated copy, of the foundational text of scientific botany and the first articulation of the modern concept of species. Andrea Cesalpino’s (1519-1603) comparative plant taxonomy – “the first rational system of plant classification” (PMM) – far surpassed any rival system of his day. De plantis notably discusses many newly discovered plants from the East Indies and the New World, all the while radically revising the scientific understanding of botanicals that for centuries entered the West from the Middle East as mere commodities: Cesalpino integrates plants previously known to Europe primarily as exotic luxuries (balsam, cumin, aloe, etc.) into a modern botanical system. This copy belonged to the contemporary botanist and author Joachim Camerarius the Younger (1534-1598), and throughout bears his extensive annotations on New World, European, North African and Arabian species; it subsequently belonged to two other prominent botanists (see below).

Edward Lee Greene, in his Landmarks of Botanical History, sees Cesalpino’s De Plantis as part of a wider scientific reappraisal of flora happening in the 1580s among scientific communities of both East and West: Greene comments on the quick popularity of Cesalpino’s new system – “an arrangement of plant genera according to what are believed to be their natural affinities” – observing that “only three years later, in 1586, the Arabic physician Qāsim ibn-Muhammad al-Wazīr al Ghassānī wrote his Ḥadīquat al-azhār fī, sarḥ māhīyat al-‘ushb wa al-‘aq qār [Garden of flowers, or explanation of the characters of herbs and drugs], which contained the first Arabic classification of plants” (p. 808). In his many dozens of entries on plants hailing from or arriving via Arabia, Cesalpino dutifully reports ancient wisdom (e.g., the observations of Avicenna, or that the Arabs call jasmine “sambach”), but it is his new classification system that would come to reshape European concepts of botanicals entering from the East. No longer would these botanicals be seen as merely exotic goods in a marketplace, but as discrete species growing in their specific habitats and with physical traits analogous to plants native to Europe: Myrrh, figs, and tamarind will no longer exist only in Europe’s poetic imagination about the exotic East, but will take their slots in a rigorous, capacious botanical system, while terms like belzoi, lacca, and bdellum will no longer be classified first as etymological curiosities, but as living plants, each with its definable type of leaf, flower, and root system.

As Greene remarks, De Plantis (Concerning Plants) “has the most unassuming title that ever adorned the initial page of a very great book; that could give no hint of its incalculable importance, or of its great destiny, as marking the beginning of the epoch of Systematic Botany.” The present copy bears exceptional witness to the book’s importance – rarely is a scientific work from this period found so thoroughly annotated by a known, contemporary reader. Reading Cesalpino’s work soon after publication, the Nuremburg physician and botanist Joachim Camerarius (1534-1598) has covered nearly every page with marginal annotations and underlinings worthy of further study. Camerarius was a correspondent of such notable early naturalists as Conrad Gessner, Gaspard Bauhin, and Charles de l’Écluse. Shortly after reading the present copy of De Plantis, Camerarius went on to publish his own Hortus medicus et philosophicus (Frankfurt, 1598). He also published a popular German-language translation of Pier Andrea Mattioli’s commentary on Dioscorides (first edition, 1586).

Cesalpino’s foundational work sets out an entirely revolutionary system of species classification, focusing on physical, tangible qualities (roots, stems and fruit), rather than alphabetically or by medicinal properties, as earlier authors had done. Such ‘accidental’ attributes as medicinal use or habitat are argued to be irrelevant; “in doing so, he elevated botany to the level of an independent science” (Norman catalogue). Thanks to this meticulous and logical attention to detail, the Hunt Catalogue describes Andrea Cesalpino (1525-1603) as “perhaps the first great theorist in botany” and notes that his ideas governed the development of botany throughout the 17th century and into the 18th. Cesalpino’s focus on morphology indeed culminated in the work of Linnaeus in the 18th century, “who was greatly indebted to this book” (PMM).

Provenance: from the libraries of three prominent botanists. The title page bears the ownership inscription of Joachim Camerarius the Younger (1534-1598), a noted Nuremberg physician and botanist. The copy subsequently belonged to George Wolfgang Franz Panzer (1755-1829), a noted botanist and entomologist with a remarkable herbarium. Finally, it was purchased by the explorer and botanist C. F. P. von Martius, commonly recognized as the father of 19th century Brazilian botany and author of the great 3-volume Nova genera et species plantarum brasiliensium (1823-1832).

* * Adams C-20; PMM 97; Alden/Landis 582/20; Dibner Heralds of Science 20; Pritzel 1640; Arents, Additions 73; Norman 432; Greene, Landmarks of Botanical History, pp. 807-31; DSB 15, 80-1; cf. Hunt Botanical I, xxvii-xxviii (no copy in the Hunt Collection).

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