Creation of Les Velins du Roi

by Jutta Buck

with Cynthia Rice

Nicolas Robert (1614-1684), one of the greatest botanical artists, is remembered for his exquisite illumination of the Guirlande de Julie (1641), commissioned by the Baron de Saint Maure as a birthday gift for his fiancée Julie d’Angennes. The flowers in this album are beautifully painted on vellum and appear as an enchanting garland on the title page encircling Julie’s name.

In 1645 Robert was invited to the Chateau de Blois by Gaston d’Orleans, the brother of King Louis XIII. Gaston, an enthusiastic botanist, established a botanic garden at Blois where many rare plants were grown. The Scottish botanist Robert Morison, then director of the gardens, is thought to have encouraged Robert to draw the many species of plants growing there. After the death of Gaston d’Orleans in 1660, the collection of plants drawn on vellum by Robert at Blois, was left to Louis XIV, who deposited them at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Robert remained in the service of the King enabling him to continue his work portraying plants of the Jardin. This incomparable collection of plant drawings on vellum, known as Les Vellins du Roi, enlarged during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with works by other renowned artists, was moved in 1793 to the Museum Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle, where it remains.




















Hemerocallis fulva, Pencil on paper (detail), Nicolas Robert, ca. 1650, from the collection of Masterpieces of Botanical Illustration at the Austrian National Library in Vienna

Claude Aubriet (1665-1742), followed Jean Joubert the successor of Nicolas Robert, as draughtsman of the plants cultivated at the royal botanical garden in Paris. Aubriet’s images mostly painted with body color on vellum are scientifically correct drawings, maintaining the high standards set by Robert. Aubriet was sponsored by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1636-1708), an important French botanist who commissioned him to illustrate his famous Elemens de Botanique, published in Paris in 1694. Moreover, two distinguished colleagues of de Tournefort, namely, Sebastien Vaillant (1669-1722 ) and Antoine de Jussieu (1686-1758), also hired Aubriet to illustrate their botanical works.

Paeonia from Elemens de botanique, Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, Paris 1694. Artist, Claude Aubriet. Copper engraving

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  • Guirlande de Julie frontispiece, Nicolas Robert, 1641
  • Eryngium alpinum by Nicholas Robert n.d., Paris mid 17th century. Watercolor & bodycolor on vellum. Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris
  • Helleborus niger Officinarum from Recueil des plantes, Denis Dodart, Paris 1701. Artist, Nicholas Robert. Hand-colored copper engraving