"The Hortus Eystettensis is itself a ‘paper museum’, a pictorial record of the flowers grown in the greatest German garden of its time, that of the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt, Johann Conrad von Gemmingen. As part of a radical building programme at his seat, the Willibaldsburg castle overlooking the river Altmühl, the Prince Bishop created an extensive pleasure garden comprising eight separate gardens, each staffed with its own gardeners and each filled with flowers from a different country, imported through the international centres of Amsterdam, Antwerp and Brussels; the Prince Bishop boasted of having tulips in 500 colours. Painted halls and pleasure rooms further adorned the gardens. The great German botanist, Joachim Camerarius the Younger, advised the Prince Bishop on the garden's early design, and it may have been Camerarius's own manuscript florilegium (sold, Christie's, 20 May 1992, lot 151) which first suggested the creation of a pictorial record of the Eichstätt gardens to the Prince Bishop. After Camerarius's death, a Nuremberg apothecary, Basilius Besler, advised on the gardens, and it was he who undertook immortalising the garden in detailed and delicate engravings for the year-round enjoyment of his patron and for posterity in the Hortus Eystettensis. Flowers were drawn from life with flower boxes sent to Nuremberg so that artists there could work from fresh specimens, with the result that these plant portraits serve both as documentation and pleasure; here is a garden made perennial and evergreen.
"The first edition was published in two issues: one with descriptive text printed on the verso of each plate and one without the text; in a few copies of the latter issue the text was printed on separate sheets and interleaved with the plates. As Barker observes, the issue without text backing the plates was undoubtedly intended to be coloured by hand; the versos were left blank, to ensure that no shadow of the printed text could detract from the botanical image. It is significant that many of the deluxe copies have no descriptive text at all. The first edition was limited to 300 copies, each of which carried a premium price. While uncoloured copies were available for 35 florins (rising to 48), coloured copies cost 500 florins. Herzog August of Braunschweig exclaimed in disbelief over the price of a coloured copy, but acquired one nonetheless, once he was assured that he had indeed understood the price correctly.
"Despite much interest in the work and numerous documentary sources, much mystery still surrounds its publication. Neither the printer of the engraved plates nor of the letterpress text has been identified. Barker has tentatively suggested Paul Kauffmann as the printer of the text, with material acquired at Frankfurt through the offices of the printseller and publisher Balthasar Caimox expressly for printing the Hortus Eystettensis ('Who printed the text of the 'Hortus Eystettensis'?, The German Book, Studies presented to David L. Paisey, ed. J.L. Flood and W.A. Kelly, London: 1995, pp185-192). David Paisey has observed that if the watermark is read (as Briquet did) as a pine-cone within an armorial shield, then it may be the arms of Augsburg, which further points to Wolfgang Kilian's shop at Augsburg as responsible for the engravings (cf. Paisey's review of Barker's Hortus Eystettensis, in The Library, 6th series, vol. 17, pp.365-8). The original drawings used in preparing the plates for publication survive at the University of Erlangen, and 328 of the copperplates, long thought to have been melted at the Munich mint c.1820, were rediscovered in the Albertina Graphische Sammlung at Vienna in 1998" (http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/besler-basilius-1561-1629-hortus-eystettensis-nuremberg-1613-6012489-details.aspx, accessed 9-2017).
Barker, Hortus Eystettensis, the Bishop's Garden and Besler's Magnificent Book, 2nd ed. London, 1995. Hortus Eystettensis: zur Gechichte eines Gartens und einer Buches (Schriften der Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg 20), Munich: 1989; The Garden at Eichstätt, The Book of Plants by Basilius Besler. Intro. by Klaus Walter Littger. Cologne, London, etc: .