Spring into the Fagel Collection

By Regina Whelan Richardson

Spring is here and time for a close-up of some of the spring flowers blossoming in the Fagel Collection – the former library of the Fagel family of the Netherlands, which is now part of the Research Collections in Trinity College Library.

The progress of botany was greatly assisted by the development of the microscope, which introduced the era of plant anatomy. The middle and upper classes, and professional families such as the Fagels, who were lawyers and government ministers in The Hague,  took an interest in microscopy as an educational and  leisure pursuit.  The Fagel Library was also a working library, providing its owners with a knowledge base over a wide range of subjects and reflecting contemporary thought, events and developments including scientific research.

The Dutch were pioneers in the field of microscope studies and a ten-year-old boy Zacharias Jansen, along with his father Hans, is widely credited with the invention of the compound microscope using multiple lenses in the 1590s. Cornelis Drebbel in the early 17th century and later Anton van Leeuwenhoek in the 1670s made innovative improvements, and the latter was also an important figure in the science of microbiology.

Martin Frobenius Ledermüller (1719-1769), Versuch bey angehender Frühlings Zeit die Vergrösserungs Werckzeuge …, Nuremberg, 1764. Shelfmark: Fag.N.1.84

This first edition of Ledermüller’s second book on microscopy is a study of spring flowers.  Like Leeuwenhoek,  he was appreciative of both the usefulness and the personal pleasure  to be found through the use of the microscope for both the scientist and the layperson. The German and French titles emphasise the concept of amusement and delight, within a beautifully hand-coloured engraved rococo border. The hand-coloured plates by Adam Ludwig Wirsing are after Ledermüller’s own drawings.

The gold or flame coloured lily. Lilium cruentum, rubens, croceum, purpureum majus, aureum majus Hemorocallis, Martagon &c.


The descriptions are written in an engaging conversational manner in keeping with his intention to invite the reader to explore and participate. The author describes his wonder on seeing a host of these lilies in the distance, shining like stars in the morning sun. He tell us that there are so many remarkable features of this flower that he could have filled up another entire plate with description.






This plate shows component parts and development of a dwarf pear tree with microscopic cross-section views and an accompanying explanation.





Georg Wolfgang Knorr (1715-1761),
Regnum Florae, Nuremberg, 1772.
Shelfmark: Fag GG.3.11

Now we travel to the Kingdom of Flowers in this beautifully illustrated work by the German engraver and naturalist Georg Wolfgang Knorr. The title page is striking in its simplicity with its calligraphic gothic script and spare use of colour.  The text is in Latin and German and Knorr references Hortus Eystettensis (featured below) and Dutch botanist Herman Boerhaave among others. The campanula and hyacinth in contrasting colours feature in two of the many hand-coloured plates in this work.

The binding reflects the subject with coloured boards hand-printed in a circular pattern with petal shapes, quarter-bound in vellum.
Basilus Besler (1561-1629), Hortus Eystettensis, Nuremberg, 1613. Shelfmark: Fag.N.1.45

Hortus Eystettensis – The Garden at Eichstätt in Germany was a famed botanical garden, created by Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, Bishop of Eichstätt at the end of the 16th century. He commissioned Basilius Besler, a Nuremberg apothecary, to produce a book describing the plants in the garden.  The Fagel edition is the black-and-white version with text, intended as a reference work. There is also a hand-coloured luxury version without text.

Detail from the elaborately engraved title page

The plants were drawn as they bloomed throughout the four seasons, with boxes of freshly cut flowers being sent every week from the garden to Nuremberg to be sketched from life.  They were later engraved on copperplate, initially at the workshop of Wolfgang Kilian in Augsburg.

We can follow their blooming seasons beginning in Spring, when the fritillary or snake’s head comes out.

Fritillaria, speciose depicta, seu meleagris

The full page shows the fritillary in company with two narcissi, complete with bulbs.

On opening the Library’s copy of this work, an 18-page manuscript index to the flowers was discovered, beautifully written in a contemporary copperplate hand, most likely by a member of the Fagel family.


Information on the Fagel Collection: https://www.tcd.ie/library/fagel/

More botanical illustrations from the early printed books collections on the Digital Collections webpage (keyword: botanical) http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/

Fagel Tulip Album: a catalogue of tulips from 1637, illustrated and with prices: https://manuscripts.catalogue.tcd.ie/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=IE+TCD+MS+1706&pos=1 and http://www.tcd.ie/library/manuscripts/blog/2012/10/tulip-mania/


Regina Whelan Richardson is an Assistant Librarian in the Department of Early Printed Books, working on the Fagel Collection.