De Plantis libri XVI.

Florence: Giorgio Marescotti, 1583.

The very rare first edition of “the first true textbook of botany’ (DSB): the introduction of Cesalpino’s classification system, which anticipated Linnaeus’ system of binomial nomenclature. “Whereas other sixteenth-century botanists were content simply to compile vast haphazard catalogues of plants, Cesalpino was the first to devise a rational classification system based upon plant morphology, the principles of which he set forth in the first book of De plantis” (Norman). “With Andreas Caesalpinus a new era begins … His book ‘On Plants’ was the first attempt to classify plants in a systematic manner based on a comparative study of forms … The traditional division into trees, shrubs, half-shrubs and herbs is retained, but they are now subdivided into different categories according to their seed, fruit and flower. The first section contains the general system, while the other fifteen sections describe 1,520 plants in fifteen classes. Caesalpinus’s philosophy is Aristotelian: plants have a vegetable soul which is responsible for nutrition and for the reproduction of organisms. Nutrition was believed to come from the roots in the soil and to be carried up the stems to produce the fruit. Hence, the roots, stems and fruit are the main characteristics selected by Caesalpinus as the basis for his classification. His descriptive terminology was finally based on the fruits of plants. Lower plants such as lichens and mushrooms, having no reproductive organs, were believed to arise by spontaneous generation from decaying matter. They were placed at the lower end of the hierarchy of plants, providing the link between plants and inorganic nature. Sex in plants had not yet been discovered; and leaves were considered simply as a protection for the seed. Imperfect as it was, Cesalpinus’s was the first rational system of plant classification by which their ever-growing number (six thousand were known in 1600, but nearly twenty thousand by the beginning of the eighteenth century) could be described. The discovery of sex on plants by Camerarius further supported Caesalpinus’s method, as reproductive organs could now be used as classifying elements in greater detail. His influence on his contemporaries was not at first very great; they continued to use empirical descriptions. His chief follower was J. Jung (1587-1657). Within one hundred years, however, the need for a system based on comparative morphology was clearly recognized, culminating in the work of Linné who was greatly indebted to this book as well as to Bauhinus. A modern basis for classification of plants was eventually provided by the theory of organic evolution” (PMM). Greene, however, believes that Cesalpino’s classification system quickly gained adherents, noting 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). ABPC/RBH record the sale of only two copies since 1939 (Sotheby’s Paris, February 8, 2017, lot 12, €18,750; Christie’s NY, March 18, 1998, lot 62, $16,100 (Norman copy)).

“Cesalpino’s principal contribution to science lies in botany. Whereas such contemporary botanists as Brunfels, Bock, Leonhart Fuchs, Mattioli, and Tabernaemontanus merely described and illustrated a great number of plants in their Krättterbücher. Cesalpino wrote the first true textbook of botany. The first book of this text is of outstanding historical importance. Here, in thirty pages of admirably clear Latin, Cesalpino presented the principles of botany, grouping a wealth of careful observations under broad categories, on the model of Aristotle and Theophrastus.

“Cesalpino considered the portion of the plant between the roots and the shoots –which he called the ‘heart’ (cor) – to be the seat of its ‘soul’ (anima), although he added that the soul is present throughout the plant. The task of the roots is to draw nourishment from the ground, and that of the shoots is to bear seeds. The leaves protect the shoots and the fruit from sunlight; they fall off in autumn, when the fruit is ripe and the shoots are developed Cesalpino’s description of the tendrils on the shoots and leaves, the climbing petioles of the Clematis, the anchoring roots of the Hedera, the secretion of the nectar from the blossoms, and many other phenomena testify to extraordinary skill in observation.

“The parts of the plant, Cesalpino asserted, exist either ‘for a purpose’ (alicuius gratia) or ‘out of (inner) necessity’ (ex necessitate); with this distinction he anticipated the concepts of adaptive characteristics and organizational characteristics. Cesalpino considered the fruit to be the most important part of the plant and, accordingly, made it the basis of his system of the plant kingdom. In this system the perianth and the stamens serve only to protect the young fruit; for in his opinion plants do not possess sexuality. He called the outer covering of the fruit the pericarpium. Among fruits he distinguished ‘racema’ (Vitis), ‘juba’ (Milium), ‘panicula’ (Panicum), and ‘umbella’ (Ferula).

“Like Aristotle, Cesalpino divided plants into four ‘genera’: Arbores (trees), Frutices (shrubs), Suffrutices (shrubby herbs), and Herbae (herbs). Trees possess a single stem, whereas shrubs have many thin stems. Shrubby herbs live for many years and often bear fruit, but herbs die after formation of the seeds. The distinction among species should be made, he held, only according to similarity and dissimilarity of forms; ‘unessential features’ (accidentia), such as medicinal use, practical application, and habitat, must not be considered.

“The remaining fifteen books are devoted to the classification and description of plants. The trees and shrubs are divided according to whether their fruits are single, bipartite, tripartite, quadripartite, or multipartite; herbs and shrubby herbs are classified in the same manner. Books 2–15 deal with the flowering plants, and book 16 treats those plants that form no seeds: ferns, duckweed, mosses, lichens, fungi, and algae. The latter groups arise, Cesalpino believed, from ‘putrefaction’ (ex putretudine). Among the ferns, however, the leaves form on their underside a ‘down’ (lanugo) out of which the new plants emerge and which thus corresponds to the seeds.

“Cesalpino was the first to elaborate a system of the plants based on a unified and coherent group of notions. Not content to confine himself to describing plants, he also set forth the basic elements of general botany. By paying scant attention to the medicinal uses of plants –which were of crucial importance to his contemporaries –he raised botany to the level of an independent science.

“Cesalpino exerted little influence on contemporary botanists; but later botanists, especially Joachim Jungius and Linnaeus, valued his work highly. The latter called Cesalpino the ‘first true systematizer’ (primus verus systematic us) and named a plant genus after him (Caesalpinia)” (DSB).

“Cesalpino studied philosophy and medicine at Pisa, where he received the doctorate in 1551. Four years later he succeeded his teacher Luca Ghini as professor of medicine and director of the botanical garden at Pisa. In 1592 he was called to Rome as physician to Pope Clement VIII and, simultaneously, professor at the Sapienza, where he taught until his death” (DSB). Cesalpino is perhaps best known as a “botanist who sought a philosophical and theoretical approach to plant classification based on unified and coherent principles rather than on alphabetical sequence or medicinal properties. He helped establish botany as an independent science” (Britannica).

Adams C-20; BM/STC Italian p. 134; Dibner, Heralds of Science 20; PMM 97; Pritzel 1640; Norman 432. Greene, Landmarks of Botanical History, pp. 807-31; cf. Hunt Botanical I, xxvii-xxviii (no copy in the Hunt Collection).



4to (223 x 155 mm), pp. [xl], 621, [11]. Woodcut printer’s device on title and at end, woodcut initials, some historiated. Old signature of Benedictis Guarnacci (?) on title. Contemporary limp vellum, manuscript title on spine (fore-edges of board gnawed beyond the edge of the text-block, some discolouration, signs of label removal from foot of spine). A genuine copy, internally fine.

Item #5133

Price: $48,000.00