'Den Blom-hof' by Crispijn van den Passe

A flowery book

Tulpen afbeelding uit Den Blom-Hof

In the first half of the 17th century an actual tulipomania raged over Europe. Bulbous and tuberous plants were very fashionable and numerous books were published on the subject, with or without true-to-life pictures. One of the most well-known books is the Hortus Floridus, titled De Blom-hof in the Dutch edition.

Speculative trade

From the second half of the 16th century the tulip, originating from Turkey, was introduced to Western Europe. The botanist Carolus Clusius (1526-1609) played a major part in this process around 1600. Soon a lively interest in the new flower and its different varieties began to develop. As a result a just as lively trade arose, in which extremely high prices were paid for this fashion flower. At the start the bulbs themselves were traded, but later transactions involved not yet existing future bulbs. In this way a large-scale speculative trade arose among growers, flower lovers and commoners. In 1637 the inevitable crisis put an end to this tulipomania.

A family of draughtsmen and engravers

Rijk gegraveerde afbeelding van een lentetuin in Den Blom-Hof

The Hortus Floridus must be viewed against the backdrop of this real bulbs hype. The book is widely known as a masterpiece. The compiler of the Hortus Floridus, Crispijn van de Passe junior (1589-1670) came from a family of well-known draughtsmen and engravers. Van de Passe spent a part of his life in Utrecht. He drew and engraved the largest part of the copperplates; but his father Crispijn senior (ca. 1565-1637) and his brothers Simon (1595-1647) and Willem (1598-ca. 1637) also contributed to the book.

Complex production

The Hortus Floridus has a very complex genesis. As it happens each publication is unique and not two are the same. In 1923 Spencer Savage made a successful attempt at unraveling the bibliographic knots. What he mostly discovered were changes in the letter type, in combination with changes in the states of the copperplates. The production of the book was a continuous process, in which the supplies of pages in letterpress and the pages in copper engravings alternately ran out and were replenished. The Hortus Floridus appeared in four languages: Latin, French, English and Dutch. Prints of the engravings were also sold separately.

Several states

In view of the complex genesis Savage came to the conclusion that the term ‘publication’ was not justified. Instead he used the term ‘state’. These states can be distinguished based on whether or not Latin texts are present on the verso sides of the plates. In this way Savage distinguished four states:

  1. Copies with the first Latin texts (Utrecht, 1614);

  2. Copies without Latin texts (Utrecht, 1615/1616)

  3. Copies with Latin texts in mixed states (Utrecht or Arnhem, 1616/1617)

  4. Copies with newly typeset Latin texts (Arnhem, 1617)

Within each of these four states, Savage distinguished several versions. The digitized Utrecht copy described here belongs to the second state and came onto the market in Utrecht in 1615 or 1616. Savage, who personally investigated this copy, wrote this conclusion on a piece of paper that is attached to the beginning of the book.

Different printers

Bloemrijk epigram met zittend figuur in glooiend landschap

The Hortus Floridus causes further confusion by the names of different printers and engravers in the work. For instance, in the earliest ‘states’ the imprints of the Arnhem printer Jan Jansz. and the Utrecht printer Herman van Borculo can be found in addition to the names of the Van de Passe family. These copies were engraved and printed in Utrecht and were also for sale in Arnhem. The later ‘states’ only have the address of Jan Jansz. and are probably printed in Arnhem. On the other hand, the texts in the English edition were printed in Utrecht, by Salomon de Roy. Possibly De Roy also printed the French text.

Information from the gardens of the ‘flower lovers’

On the letterpress title page of the Hortus Floridus it says: ‘ende door Crispijn vande Pas de Ionghe in ordre gebrocht, ende met groote moeite naar het leven gecontrefeyt’ (produced by Crispijn vande Pas the Younger, and with great effort drawn true-to-life). And also according to the information on the preliminary pages the flowers are drawn true- to-life. To that end Van de Passe used the gardens of lovers of flowers and herbs. These lovers or liefhebbers, most are from Utrecht, are mentioned by name, including Johannes van Wolfswinkel, Willem van de Kemp and Jacobus van Nelthorp. He also mentions persons from Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leyden, such as Abraham Castelyn and Carolus Clusius. And in a poem; Van de Passe honours the lovers:

‘[...] Aenschout doch met verstant / dese Bloemkens seer playsant /
Door groote moeyten hier / met sorghe ghebracht int Lant /
En door des Schilders const / yder voor ooghen ghestelt /
Uyt uwe Hoven schoon / oock uyt het lustelijck Veldt [...]’.

(View with consideration / these pleasant flowers;
Brought into the land with great care;
And by the art of the painter made visible for everybody;
From your beautiful gardens / and also from the lush fields).

Furthermore, the engraved title page shows the portraits of Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585) and Clusius mentioned before. Both botanists, at the time world famous men, have unmistakably influenced Van de Passe.

Contents of the Hortus Floridus

The Hortus Floridus consists of two parts. The first is divided according to the four seasons and comprises almost 175 illustrations, mainly of bulbous and tuberous plants. Each season begins with a design for a French-style garden. Furthermore each plate shows two kinds of plants or flowers. Tulips belong to the spring garden. The second part, Altera Pars, contains approximately sixty plates with about 120 pictures of fruit trees, fruits and medicinal plants. These illustrations are by Van de Passe junior , after designs of his father and of Joannes Woutnel. It concerns early material which, compared to the engravings in the first part, is of a lesser quality and technique. The collection of pictures has been added to the Hortus Floridus as a kind of appendix and gives a random indication of the engraving talents of the still young Van de Passe.

Epigram by Buchelius

Halfway through the Hortus Floridus is a beautiful engraving with an ‘epigramma’, a short and concise poem containing a pun. This epigram is signed by a certain ‘AB’, probably the Utrecht amateur historian Aernout van Buchel, who was a friend of the Van de Passe family.

Colouring-in by the owner

Richly engraved title page of Den Blom-Hof

As can be read on the title page, the pictures should be coloured in by the owner:

‘Noch hier by ghevoecht de manier soomen dese bloemen naer haer eyghen coleuren ofte verven sal illumineren ofte afsetten / tot dienst van alle curieuse Liefhebberen der bloemen’.

(Hereby added the way in which the flowers according to their own colours should be painted or illuminated / to the service of all curious lovers of flowers).

In this copy only a few pictures have been coloured in.

Not complete

Unfortunately, the Utrecht copy is not complete. Some pages are missing in the preliminary matter and also some plates in the Altera Pars. On the other hand, the letterpress title page occurs twice. Some illustrations are not in the right order or have been given incorrect handwritten serial numbers. Even so, it is a beautiful document with clear engravings.
Utrecht University Library holds, besides the publication in the Dutch language described here, another beautiful and complete copy in French (MAG: Rariora oct 109 (oblong)). This book is an example of Spencer’s fourth state, printed in Arnhem in 1617.

The influence of the Hortus Floridus

Thanks to Crispijn van de Passe’s engraving talents the Hortus Floridus takes up an important place within the botanical iconography. Compared to the common woodcut techniques which prevailed during a large part of the 16th century, the copper engravings represented plants and flowers more accurately, but also in an artistic and pictorial way. Van de Passe took this chance with both hands and produced a high-quality publication. However, it is not a purely scientific treatise.
Van de Passe’s work was very well-known, also abroad. Imitations and copies appeared, for instance by Merian. For three centuries long, the Hortus Floridus was an inspiration for garden lovers.