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Gems of the Fagel Collection: La Géométrie Pratique 1702

Anita Cooper

The Fagel Collection contains a copy of Alain Manesson-Mallet’s 1702 four volume work La géométrie pratique printed in Paris (shelf mark Fag.N.7.33-36). He was a French cartographer and fortifications engineer who served the armies of both France and Portugal and later taught mathematics in the court of Louis XIV.

The volumes are richly illustrated – after the authors own designs – and explain the practical applications of geometry, trigonometry, planimetry and stereometry. There are approximately five hundred engravings of: European cities, their landscapes, and landmarks; buildings and grounds of palaces, estates and chateaux; and required tools and equipment.


La géométrie pratique is a stunning book that would fit right into the library of any collector, but why did the Fagels have a copy in their library? Manesson-Mallet’s work was very influential in garden design and architecture which required knowledge of geometry and mathematics as well as optics and perspective. Many engravings depict gardens of palaces and large private estates. The Fagel house at Noordeinde was located a short distance from the Inner Court (‘Binnenhof) or the political centre in The Hague. Built in 1680, it was reconstructed in 1707 by Daniel Marot. The garden shared a border with the property of the Prince of Orange.

Gaspar Fagel, the first family greffier and then grand-pensionary of Holland during the late 17th century, was an avid horticulturalist and collected a variety of plants from around the world for his famous garden at home near Leiden. An abundance of botanical books of scientific importance can also be found in the collection. With the Fagel reputation to consider, their location and neighbours, and the wealth of resources available in the family library planning the new garden may have been a studied process indeed.

Fortification and Topology

During their career, the Fagel greffiers’ may have considered these books useful during their work and travels on behalf of the States General. Also, François Nicolaas Fagel (1655-1718), a nephew of Gaspar Fagel, was in the military for the Habsburg Netherlands. He was active in Belgium, France, and Portugal and ended his career ranked as general of the infantry for the States General.

The numerous illustrations contained in La géométrie pratique could have offered needed topological information of Europe suitable for state and military purposes. Manesson-Mallet’s expertise military engineering and his experience from inspecting fortifications are evident in his illustrations. Approaches to many European cities can be found in the second volume dedicated to trigonometry which includes distance measurement calculations and logarithmic tables. There are also plenty of images of landmarks, maps, and structures to be found in these volumes.

Fagel copies of La géométrie pratique

The Fagel copies are bound in vellum with the spine lettered in ink noting the author’s name, title of the work, and its shelf-mark. This is a very common binding for volumes found in the collection. A lozenge-shaped label is also pasted onto the spine recording the lot number from the 1802 Bibliotheca Fageliana auction catalogue – in this case lot #3825.

Fagel Collection copies in vellum binding (shelf mark Fag.N.7.33-36)

Interestingly, this catalogue records the format as a quarto. However, when examining the chain-lines with the books in hand, they are in fact octavo. At one point the Fagel library at Noordeinde contained another set, in octavo, of this edition but with 3 of the volumes bound in calf and the other in red leather. They were sold in the 1792 auction held by Van Cleef en Scheurleur as lot #506 when duplicate volumes were put up for sale. It is significant that the Fagel’s had two sets of La géométrie pratique in their collection at one point in time. Further research into their provenance might uncover more information about this wonderful 4-volume set and its purpose in the Fagel Collection.

Anita Cooper | Blog post written as part of the project Unlocking the Fagel Collection